THE group was stranded in Moscow by a snowstorm and unlike other passengers refused seats on alternative flights. They say it was no mistake.
A RUSSIAN airline told a group of stranded passengers they would be “deported” to India — even though they were American.
Lawyers on behalf of the five US citizens have filed a racial discrimination complaint against the airline, Aeroflot, saying the travellers were sent to India purely because of the colour of their skin.
The incident happened in January, when passengers Marc Fernandes, Shahana Islam, Sabiha Islam, Bakiul Islam and Anshul Agrawal were attempting to fly from New Delhi to New York.
The group had to take a connecting flight in Moscow, but became stranded when their connecting flight to New York was cancelled due to snowstorms.
According to the complaint filed to the US Department of Transportation, Aeroflot staff told the Americans — who were of South Asian descent — there were no seats available on any other flights to New York and they would not be given accommodation.
This was despite connecting flights being offered to “white Americans,” the complaint said, according to US news publication Little India.
The complaint said the group was also denied transit visas, which meant they had to take a flight to return to India, or Russian officials would have them “deported” to India within 24 hours.
Video filmed by one of the passengers shows an Aeroflot employee refusing to believe the passengers were US citizens.
“Aeroflot staff steadfastly refused to allow American customers who were, or who were perceived to be, of South Asian descent to return to the United States, ‘deporting’ them instead to India — all while providing customers on the same flight who were or who were perceived to be White Americans with accommodations and connecting flights to America,” the complaint said.
Stranded, and facing deportation, the passengers contacted the US embassy in Moscow, where an officer confirmed it was illegal for the airline to deport US citizens to a third country against their will.
But when the embassy officer asked to speak to Aeroflot staff over the phone, they refused, the complaint said.
Instead, the reiterated “their threat that the passengers would be deported and that if they did not return to India, Aeroflot would ‘make matters worse’ for them — including through criminal deportation and heavy fines”.
The passengers eventually boarded the plane to India “fearing for their safety”.
But when they finally reached New Delhi, they were told they would have to wait for more than a week for the next Aeroflot flight to New York. They ended up spending thousands of dollars on flights to other US cities.
One of the passengers, Anshul Agrawal, detailed his experience in a Facebook post.
“Because of the lies and racism faced by me, I have lost a week of work (I will not be allowed to vacation this year) and faced tremendous mental stress,” he said.
“Aeroflot has left me scarred. I have videos and testimonials from passengers to prove these incidents.
“How can airlines treat their customers this way? I urge everyone to not fly by this airline and suggest what course of action I can take against them.”
The complaint, filed by civil rights legal firm Muslim Advocates and lawyers on behalf of the group, said the passengers endured a “harrowing ordeal”.
“Aeroflot’s treatment of American citizens was not only unjust and unfair, it also violates Aeroflot’s internal protocols as well as federal aviation and non-discrimination laws,” it said.
In a statement to the UK’s The Independent, Aeroflot said: “We clearly fell short of our customary high standards of service in this incident, which occurred more than two months ago, and indeed we contacted the passengers immediately afterwards to offer our apologies.
“However, our thorough internal investigation established that this was not a case of discrimination based on appearance, and we do not accept this characterisation in the complaint,” it added.
H/t reader kevin a:
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