Popular YouTube vlogger Adam Saleh claims he and a friend were ejected from a Delta airplane this morning for speaking Arabic, an experience he documented on Twitter and Periscope. Though some details surrounding the incident remain unclear, an online hashtag #BoycottDelta has erupted since Saleh’s video surfaced, with users decrying Delta’s actions and discrimination from passengers.
In the viral Twitter clip, filmed onboard a Delta plane, Saleh says he was speaking Arabic with fellow YouTuber Slim Albaher and his mother over the phone while waiting for the New York City-bound Delta flight to depart. Soon after, Saleh claims, passengers complained, saying that they felt uncomfortable. Flight attendants then came to escort the two off the plane. One passenger defends the vloggers, others look away from the camera, another shouts “Bye,” and in the rear of the plane passengers hand wave to the camera.
After being removed from the plane, Saleh took to Periscope, giving a blow-by-blow of what happened. Both vloggers were booked onto a separate flight; Saleh said on his Persicope he will consult with a lawyer when he lands in New York.
In an official statement, Delta says that it is conducting a full investigation into the situation: “Two customers were removed from this flight and later rebooked after a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort. We're conducting a full review to understand what transpired. We are taking allegations of discrimination very seriously; our culture requires treating others with respect.”
In the hours since Saleh and Albaher were removed from their flight, the #BoycottDelta hashtag was started, with Twitter users chiming in to express their disgust.
Complicating matters, however, is Saleh’s profession. The 23-year-old, who has more than 2 million followers on his YouTube channel alone, is a well-known internet prankster, leading some observers to call the veracity of the entire incident into question. Earlier this year, Saleh produced a video where he claimed he’d packed himself into a suitcase and illegally flown from Melbourne to Sydney, something the airline later proved was a hoax. In 2014, he and video producer Sheikh Akbar released a video claiming to show racial profiling from the New York City police. That video was staged, and both Saleh and Akbar apologized after the clip went viral.
Nevertheless, though Delta is investigating the specifics of the incident, that Muslim and Arabic-speaking people could be barred from flights is not new. Two Palestinian men were temporarily blocked from boarding a Southwest Airlines flight last year after a fellow passenger was alarmed by their speaking Arabic. And earlier this year, a Somali woman wearing a headscarf was asked to leave her flight after the woman next to her claimed she felt uncomfortable. In November, a man who harassed passengers on a Delta flight, shouting “"Donald Trump, baby!" and "We got some Hillary bitches on here," was not booted off his plane. He was, however, banned for life from flying on the airline after the airline received complaints online.
We’ve reached out to both Saleh and Delta for comment.
Update 12:13pm ET: Though details are still sparse, CNN‘s Soledad O’Brien reports that passengers are disputing whether or not Saleh actually made a call to his mother:
Also people on plane disputing call to mom— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) December 21, 2016
Update 7:28PM ET: Delta has released a new statement to The Washington Post calling Saleh and Albaher’s behavior on the flight “provocative”:
“Upon landing the crew was debriefed and multiple passenger statements collected,” Delta said. “Based on the information collected to date, it appears the customers who were removed sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting. This type of conduct is not welcome on any Delta flight. While one, according to media reports, is a known prankster who was video recorded and encouraged by his traveling companion, what is paramount to Delta is the safety and comfort of our passengers and employees. It is clear these individuals sought to violate that priority.”