United Takes Action Against Flight Attendant Who Denied Muslim Woman Unopened Can of Soda

Chicago-based airline says flight attendant will "no longer serve United customers"

A flight attendant who refused a passenger an unopened can of soda because she might "use it as a weapon" will no longer serve United Airlines customers, the airline said in a Wednesday apology to the passenger. 

The incident between the flight attendant and Tahera Ahmad, a Muslim chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, happened last week on a flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. 

In a post to Facebook, Ahmad wrote about her denied request for an an unopened can of Diet Coke. Ahmad said  the flight attendant refused, telling her unopened cans could be used as weapons and it was against policy to hand them out. When Ahmad pointed out that the flight attendant had given the man next to her an unopened can of beer, she said the flight attendant repeated, "It's so you don't use it as a weapon."

Instead of getting support from onlookers, a man an aisle away from Ahmad mentioned her religion and yelled, "Yes you know you would use it as a WEAPON so shut the f**k up," she wrote.

"At that point I just felt like crawling into my seat and I had tears in my eyes," she told NBC Chicago earlier this week. "It was utter humiliation."

United Airlines flight 3504 was operated by Shuttle America, which is owned by Republic Airways Holdings. The Indianapolis-based Shuttle America said in a statement Monday that the company doesn't enforce rules about serving unopened cans.

Chicago-based United Airlines initially called the incident a "misunderstanding," but offered a formal apology to Ahmad on Wednesday.

"While United did not operate the flight, Ms. Ahmad was our customer and we apologize to her for what occurred on the flight. After investigating this matter, United has ensured that the flight attendant, a Shuttle America employee, will no longer serve United customers."

The statement continued: "United does not tolerate behavior that is discriminatory – or that appears to be discriminatory - against our customers or employees."

It was unclear from United's statement if the flight attendant had been fired or just banned from United planes, or just not "serving customers" on planes.

Ahmad earlier this week said she felt United Airlines "trivialized" the issue, adding that it was "not about a can of diet soda."

"United can’t simply say that they stand for diversity inclusion on paper," she said. "You know this needs to be something that’s enacted upon."

NBC Chicago on Wednesday evening reached out to Ahmad for reaction to the latest statement from United Airlines.

Contact Us