Five U.S citizens have filed complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) against Aeroflot for grossly discrimination simply because of their perceived race and national origin. Aeroflot is one of the largest and oldest Russian airlines which operates domestic and international passenger and services, mainly from its hub at Sheremetyevo International Airport.
According to Muslim Advocates and the law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss PLLC, complainants – all of them U.S. citizens perceived to be of South Asian descent – were on a layover in Moscow on their way home to the U.S. after a trip to India. After their connecting flight was cancelled due to inclement weather, Aeroflot staff repeatedly threatened them when they asked for a new return flight to America, informing the passengers that they needed to return back to India.
Meanwhile, the passengers perceived to be white Americans were given accommodations during their extended layover and were booked on the next-available flights back to the United States. “Aeroflot’s treatment was not only unjust and unfair, it also clearly violates the company’s internal protocols as well as federal aviation and nondiscrimination laws,” said complainants.
“Aeroflot’s behavior is appalling and beyond any justification,” said Juvaria Khan, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “DOT must conduct a full and thorough investigation and hold Aeroflot accountable for its discriminatory actions and ensure that no other travelers endure this type of mistreatment.”
As detailed in the complaint, although the passengers on the flight who were perceived to be of South Asian descent repeatedly informed Aeroflot staff that they could not be “deported” to India because they were United States citizens. Aeroflot staff, however, refused to listen – one employee threatened the Complainants with civil and criminal sanctions, including forfeiture of their Aeroflot tickets if they refused to accept that they were “Indians” who had to return “back to India.” Fearing further persecution by Aeroflot and the Russian government, the complainants reluctantly took a flight back to New Delhi; when they arrived there was not a single Aeroflot representative present to assist them, despite Aeroflot’s assurances to the contrary.
According to Waleed Nassar, Partner at Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss PLLC, “This complaint is to ensure that a clear and unequivocal message is sent worldwide to any airline that chooses to contract with United States citizens and to offer flights to the United States: discrimination against any United States citizen on any basis – be it racial, religious, perceived ethnic origin or sexual orientation – is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
“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,” said Aeroflot to The Independent.