An Arab American vlogger known for his YouTube pranks claimed he was kicked off a Delta Air Lines plane Wednesday morning because other passengers felt uncomfortable that he spoke to his mother on the phone in Arabic — an account that the airline company and at least one passenger have contradicted.
Adam Saleh, a 23-year-old Internet personality, tweeted a video showing him and a friend, Slim Albaher, about to be removed from the plane.
“Guys, we spoke a different language on the plane and now we’re getting kicked out,” a visibly upset Saleh said to the camera. “This is 2016. 2016. Look, Delta Air Lines are kicking us out because we spoke a different language. You guys are racist. I cannot believe my eyes.”
As his video and subsequent tweets went viral, Saleh’s account was questioned by many on social media — even as his agent insisted to The Washington Post that the incident was not a prank.
In the video, as Saleh panned the camera around the plane cabin, a few passengers waved. Several could be heard shouting: “Bye!”
At least one passenger could be seen coming to Saleh’s defense, telling flight attendants that he thought what was happening was “insane.”
“I am upset that that’s happening, really upset,” the passenger said. “Is there freedom of speech? They can speak in whatever language they want to on the plane.”
Early Wednesday, Delta officials confirmed that two people were removed from the flight from London Heathrow International Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
At first, the airline did not elaborate further, only saying that “a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort” and that it would conduct a full review after the plane landed.
Wednesday evening, the airline released a new statement saying that Saleh and Albaher had been “provocative.”
“Upon landing the crew was debriefed and multiple passenger statements collected,” the statement read. “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.”
Anthony Ellis, a passenger on the flight, told The Post that he was seated a row ahead of Saleh and Albaher, and had heard one of them shouting something while the other filmed people’s reactions.
Ellis, who speaks some Arabic, didn’t understand the word — and thought “maybe it was a goof that he was shouting to his friend.”
The two were not acting maliciously, he said, but almost like some students heading to Cancun for spring break would be, Ellis said.
When other passengers told them to stop shouting, however, it escalated. But Ellis said he did not hear Saleh speaking on the phone in Arabic.
“He was never any part on the phone — I would have heard the whole conversation,” Ellis said. “If someone’s being racist, I would stand up right away. In this day in age, you defend each other. It wasn’t like that. I mean, this guy was trying to antagonize people. I think because they made it into such a big scenario, [Saleh] then kind of panicked a little bit.”
Flight-tracking records showed the plane departed Heathrow at 11:03 a.m. local time, about an hour after its scheduled departure. It was scheduled to land at JFK around 2:45 p.m.
Saleh’s tweets were shared tens of thousands of times. Within a few hours, the original video depicting him on the plane had been retweeted more than 300,000 times and #BoycottDelta had become the top trending topic worldwide on Twitter.