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YouTube star says he was removed from Delta flight after speaking Arabic

The creator of a popular YouTube channel said on Wednesday he was removed from a Delta flight after speaking Arabic.

Adam Saleh, 23, said he and a friend were removed from a Delta flight at Heathrow Airport in London after he spoke in Arabic to his mother on the phone and passengers complained. Saleh posted a video to social media that appeared to show his removal. The incident is still under investigation, according to Delta.

Delta issued a statement on the incident Wednesday that said two customers were removed and rebooked after “a disturbance in the cabin resulted in more than 20 customers expressing their discomfort.” Delta has not released any of those customers’ statements to date.

The statement added, “We are taking allegations of discrimination very seriously; our culture requires treating others with respect.”

Saleh’s social posts often show him pulling pranks. One video, posted on Saleh’s YouTube channel on Feb. 9, shows Saleh on a plane as he appears to joke with his travel companion on “what would ever happen” if they counted down from 10 in Arabic, “as a social experiment.” The video shows Saleh counting down in Arabic, then amicably chatting with a fellow passenger as the flight continues.

But Saleh defended his experience on Wednesday. He told the Guardian and The New York Times the videos are authentic and that he plans to share more footage from the incident.

“You can exactly see in the video a person sticking a middle finger up at the back, you see a guy defending us. The captain was quiet when I said what had happened,” Saleh told the Guardian. “We wouldn’t be here joking around.”

Saleh told the Guardian that the incident began when he spoke with his mom on the phone. “Usually before I take off I speak to my mom. My mom is 66 years old and she only speaks Arabic, so I was speaking to her in Arabic – it was a 30-second phone call,” he said.

Saleh said that a woman on the plane told him she was uncomfortable with his Arabic, and another person called for Delta to “Chuck them off the f-ing plane!” Then, the captain asked to speak to Saleh outside the aircraft and Saleh started filming, he said.

PBS NewsHour reached out to Saleh for comment and his management team responded with his statement:

I was speaking to my mom on the phone like I always do before getting on a flight. I call her before I take off and when I land so that she knows I am safe and well. I was speaking in Arabic when a female passenger began shouting that they felt uncomfortable. This encouraged almost 10 other passengers to agree and shout the same thing. We were kicked off the flight while those passengers mocked us. We are currently getting ready to get onto another flight with another Airline. I will keep everyone updated with the situation through social media! I appreciate everyone’s support and effort in raising awareness on this!

The video, posted to Twitter and Periscope, appears to show Saleh and friend, Slim Albaher, being escorted off the plane. London’s Metropolitan Police escorted Saleh and Albaher to the terminal. “They were not arrested and no offences were disclosed,” the police said in a statement.

“They kicked us off the plane because a lady, because a lot of people felt uncomfortable,” Saleh said. “Delta Air Lines just kicked us out for speaking Arabic.”

The flight, which was scheduled to land in New York, was delayed by 53 minutes.

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