My name is Wahiba Abu-Ras, and I am a Social Work professor at Adelphi University in New York. I have posted this petition in response to my treatment by Delta Airlines this past autumn on a flight from Detroit, MI to Newark, NJ, where I was unjustly forced to deplane after being physically assaulted and verbally mistreated by a flight attendant.
On Thursday, October 4th, I left on a Delta flight (DL1545) from Newark, NJ, to Detroit, MI, to attend the Fourth Annual Conference (held at Michigan State University, in Lansing, MI) addressing Muslim Mental health in the United States. I left Lansing on Saturday, October 6th, to catch a flight back to NJ. I boarded the plane and took my seat. As I worked on my laptop, I was suddenly interrupted by the very loud voice of a flight attendant ,Ms. Trudy April Baird (7025680 ATL), while she was speaking to two couples seated next to the exit. In my professional opinion, she showed cultural covert macro aggression towards the couple. She spoke very loudly and in very slow, prolonged words, as if the couple was deaf and did not understand the English language. Her disrespectful tone toward the couple did not go unnoticed by surrounding passengers, who rolled their eyes and agreed with my observation that she was treating them with disrespect.
I then returned to working on my laptop until I heard her voice again, asking all passengers to turn their electronic devices off. I shut down my laptop and put my cell phone on airplane mode. I placed my phone in my handbag and my laptop in the seat pocket in front of me in order to use it again when permitted. In preparation for the flight, the flight attendant did her tour once again, and this time she told me to place my laptop in my handbag and to put it underneath the seat in front of me. She also told me to place my “shopping bag” on the top of my handbag. I looked at her and said, “OK”, though I disapproved of her disrespectful tone and treatment. I got the laptop out of the seat pocket and bent down to reach my handbag, so that I could put the laptop in it.
At that moment, I was shocked to find the flight attendant grabbing my left wrist very tightly, saying, “If you do not want to comply with the flight rules then you need to get off this airplane.” I explained that I did not resist moving my laptop, and I asked her to let go of my wrist and to no longer touch me. She let go of my wrist when I told her, “This is considered a physical assault,” but she immediately placed a phone call to security, asked the Captain to go back to the main gate. I was extremely surprised to hear her speaking loudly over the PA speaker, informing all passengers that there was a passenger who refused to comply with the rules. A conflict resolution officer boarded the plane to speak with me, and told me I had the right to petition the flight attendant’s behavior. After the officer left the airplane, the flight attendant asked me to move my “shopping bag” from underneath my seat to the seat next to me, as it was empty. I told her “OK. If this continues to be an issue, please take the bag and do whatever you want with it and let us go.” She went back to the captain again and asked him to go back to the gate to get me off the airplane. I was deplaned, issued a new ticket for a later flight, and encouraged to report the behavior of the flight attendant. I contacted Delta Airlines and described the incident, but after “investigating” my incident using the sole testimony of the belligerent flight attendant (whose behavior they admitted was “rude”), the company declined to take action against the flight attendant or to compensate me for her discriminatory and illegal actions.
As a professor who teaches about oppression and violation of human rights, and as an expert on discrimination against minorities and immigrants, never would I have anticipated this type of treatment, implicitly and explicitly, by a flight attendant from Delta Airlines. Initially, it was very frustrating and painful to be the recipient of the flight attendant’s prejudiced comments and to observe the way in which she disrespectfully spoke to the couple on the plane. After the initial shock, I became her second victim, and this time not only did she verbally mistreat me, but she also physically assaulted me. In my 22 years of being in the U.S, this experience has been the most humiliating experience ever. I suspect I was targeted because of the way I looked and sounded (as I speak with an accent). I also know that many Arabs and Muslims, or individuals who look like Arabs, are also targeted, racially profiled, and asked to get off airplanes, as they looked suspicious to some airline staff. However, I never imagined that this would happen to me just because I placed my laptop in the front seat pocket or because my bag was placed on top of my handbag underneath the seat in front of me. There is no way I can describe the humiliation that I felt when I was deplaned, despite not doing anything to instigate it. I have always advocated for human rights, and I do not tolerate any stereotyping, prejudice attitudes, discrimination and any type of violations against any human being, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, skin color or ability level. I could not believe that I was attacked personally, maybe based on my looks, accent and/or because I refused to be treated with such disrespect, humiliation, and degradation. I also refuse to let this case go by without investing the time, energy, and means to stop this unacceptable, discriminatory behavior from anyone. This incident forced me to miss my flight, and it subjected me to undue humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress.
Please sign this petition to raise awareness of Delta’s discriminatory and unfair policies, and to implore them to take action against their flight attendant, Ms. Trudy April Baird (7025680 ATL).
Thank you all for your support,
Dr. Wahiba Abu-Ras