Delta Airlines is defending removing YouTube celebrity Adam Saleh, whose prank videos have garnered him a significant online following, from a flight Wednesday.
Saleh said earlier Wednesday that he was removed from the flight because he spoke Arabic to his mom on the phone before takeoff.
“I speak to my mom on the phone every flight,” Saleh told CBSN shortly after video he posted on Twitter showing his removal went viral. “She only speaks Arabic.”
But according to a Delta, Saleh sought to disrupt the cabin.
In statement to CBS News Delta said:
“Upon landing the crew was debriefed and multiple passenger statements collected. 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.”
According to Saleh, a woman in the seat in front of him turned around and told him he ought to speak English. Saleh said he told her he can speak whatever language he likes, and her husband responded by standing up and screaming at him.
Then about 20 people allegedly said they were uncomfortable with Saleh and his companion. The pair were approached by the captain, who Saleh said “seemed ashamed and embarassed” when he asked them to leave the plane because of the other passengers’ complaints.
Saleh released a statement Wednesday on Twitter after her said he was back in New York City. He thanked everyone for their support.
“Delta has been called out previously for racial matters,” he wrote in part. “The media has been twisting my words, so I will not be speaking to any media until I speak with my attorney.”
In an earlier statement, Delta said:
“Maintaining a safe, comfortable and orderly onboard environment is paramount for every flight and requires the cooperation of all of our customers in conjunction with adherence to directions from our crew members. This is a Delta policy and is required by U.S. regulations as well as others governing aviation worldwide.
“Two customers were removed from Delta flight 1 departing London-Heathrow today after a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort.
“We have spoken with the customers who were removed; they were rebooked on another flight. Plans are in place to immediately speak with our crew and other passengers when the flight lands this afternoon. We will provide an update once we have more information.”
Saleh has more than 1.6 million subscribers to his TrueStoryASA YouTube channel, and more than 2.2 million subscribers to his Adam Saleh Vlogs YouTube channel. Saleh’s YouTube channels are full of prank videos as well as videos about Muslim life, and he is a self-described “professional idiot.”
Saleh has a history of posting staged videos designed to look like the real thing, including an infamously faked viral video that alleged to have shown anti-Muslim bias from the NYPD.
In 2014, Saleh’s video “RACIAL PROFILING EXPERIMENT!” showed him and friend staging a fight twice in front of an alleged police officer, once in Western street clothes, and once in Muslim clothes. The Smoking Gun revealed the hoax relatively quickly, but two years later, as of Wednesday morning, Saleh still does not indicate that the video was staged in its description.
In February 2016, Saleh posted a video of a self-described “social experiment” in which he counts down from 10 in Arabic aboard a plane.
Just last week, Saleh was called out for faking a video allegedly showing him sneaking onto a flight inside a suitcase.
In one video Saleh posted to Twitter, that was retweeted more than 500,000 times, he can be seen getting escorted off the London-to-New York flight.
(WARNING: Video contains some strong language that some readers may find offensive.)
As he is slowly walking down the aisle of the jet, Saleh says he is being kicked off for “speaking a different language.” He said he was just innocently talking to his mother when “white” people around him began complaining about his use of Arabic. This led to a handful of Delta personnel asking Saleh to leave the flight.
In the video, some passengers can be seen telling the apparent Delta employees that they did not want Saleh removed, while others can be seen waving and saying “bye” as he walks away.
He later tweeted that police and security officials interviewed him and the other person kicked off the flight multiple times.
Saleh later said he got on a flight to New York with a different airline after being “checked” for 30 minutes.
“I’m not gonna let this go,” Saleh said. “What if they do this to people like my mother who can’t even speak English?”
No official accounting of what exactly transpired on the flight has been released by airport security.
Some of the passengers on the flight spoke to CBS News after the plane landed at JFK Airport.
“It was clear that this guy knew what he was doing, because as he was leaving the plane he would stop, he would kind of make eye-contact with people. He would say ‘Delta, Delta is kicking me off the plane.’ He wasn’t alone, he was travelling with somebody else,” Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson told CBS News.
Another passenger told CBS News that she felt it was not discriminatory in any way.
“I was sitting towards the front of the plane and just heard a lot of commotion actually,” said passenger Jacqueline Willemsen. “When he came up to the front he was just screaming that it was an injustice and that he was being kicked off for speaking loudly in Arabic. To be really honest it seemed like more of a scene than anything that actually happened.”
However, another passenger told CBS News he had a bit of a different perspective.
“I think the guy was giving a bit of a prayer, just before take off, which is not unusual. Somebody heard him speaking in Arabic and I think reported him,” said passenger Chris Ashford. “…Whether Delta performed or acted in the manner they were supposed to, I’m assuming, for protocol, yes. There definitely seemed to be a bit of a misunderstanding.”
Incidents of people being removed from planes are actually quite rare, said CBS News transportation safety expert Mark Rosenker. Last year there 82 people removed out of more than 11 million flights.
“It’s a rare occurence,” Rosenker said, noting that the ultimate decision is up to the captain.
“The airlines have the advantage. You’re expected to comply with the rules and regulations ... and the main one is behavior,’’ Rosenker said.
Despite skepticism about Saleh’s account, Delta employees have been accused of discriminating against Muslims in recent years.
In August, an Ohio Muslim couple said they were removed from a return flight from Europe after an airline employee allegedly singled them out because of their appearance.
Delta issued the pair a full refund of the couple’s airfare for the July 26 flight from Paris to Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. The suburban Cincinnati couple were allegedly removed from the flight because an airline employee wasn’t comfortable with the woman wearing a headscarf and talking on the phone, and with the husband sweating. They were returning home after visiting London and Paris to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
After the incident with Saleh, a #boycottDelta hashtag began trending on Twitter.