The U.S. Department of Transportation has fined Delta Air Lines $50,000 for "discriminatory conduct" related to two 2016 incidents in which three Muslim passengers were removed from flights.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) filed a consent order claiming Delta violated the law "when it removed and denied re-boarding" to the Muslim customers, according to NBC. The order also requires that all cabin crew members and service staff involved in the two incidents take cultural-sensitivity training.
The first discriminatory occurrence was on July 26, 2016, when a Muslim married couple boarded a flight in Paris to return to their home in Cincinnati.
A passenger told a flight attendant that the couple made her uncomfortable, citing an instance where the Muslim husband allegedly inserted "something plastic into his watch" and did "something with it." The passenger described the couple as "fidgety, nervous, and sweating," according to the consent order.
Flight attendants claimed that the husband was texting on his phone and using the word 'Allah' several times. They also noted that he did not smile after making eye contact with the attendants.
Following these suspicions, the captain asked security to remove the passengers from the plane for additional vetting and they were later denied re-boarding, the DOT said.
If not for the couple's "perceived religion, Delta would not have removed or denied them re-boarding," the order said.
Five days later, the second incident happened when a Muslim man boarded a flight from Amsterdam to New York City.
According to DOT, the man removed was witnessed making "significant eye contact" with passengers at the gate and was seen to be given a small package by a man with a similar ethnicity who did not board the plane.
The captain asked the First Officer to examine the cabin, but "observed nothing remarkable" about the passenger. The captain then progressed to start departure, but later returned to the gate after flight attendants remained uncomfortable by the man's presence on the plane.
The man was relocated to another flight without any further screening, leading the agency to believe his removal was discriminatory.
Delta disagrees with the federal department's characterization of both of the incidents as "discriminatory" actions.
Delta also said it has "worked to improve our investigative process since these incidents and we have supporting programs, policies, training and procedures that back up our commitments in this area."
The airline also stressed in a statement that it "serves customers of all races, ethnicities, and religious affiliations ... Delta stands by its record as an airline where all are welcome, and unlawful discrimination of any kind is not tolerated."