Passengers have challenged YouTuber Adam Saleh’s version of events.
The saga around internet celebrities Adam Saleh and his friend Slim Albaher being kicked off a Delta plane due to speaking Arabic appears to be neverending.
That is, people aren’t sure whether if it’s a prank or not.
Now some passengers on the plane have challenged the claim the YouTubers were not ejected for the language they spoke, but rather their disruptive behaviour on the plane. That’s in tandem with Delta’s statement that said the pair "sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behaviour."
Both Saleh and Albaher have maintained despite their history, the incident was not a prank and they were booted off the plane for speaking in Arabic, resulting in the hashtag #BoycottDelta.
‘There was no reason for him to shout’
Anthony Ellis, from London, told Mashable he was sitting two rows in front of Saleh and Albaher on the same flight. He also recently posted his version of events on reddit.
Ellis, currently in Rochester, New York, said at the time he had no idea who the pair were and initially assumed the shouting was to try and call a friend across the plane.
"I thought, oh he must be shouting for his friend on the other side of the plane, because he was shouting across the plane. But no-one turns around, so he starts giggling with his friend, so he shouts it out again."
Ellis was trying to work out what was being said. He thought it sounded similar to the Arabic greeting, "as-salamu alaykum," so with his limited knowledge of Arabic, he tried to search for the phrase on his phone.
om telolet om ."
In hindsight, he said they weren’t speaking Arabic, but the whole time they were actually shouting "om telolet om." It’s a phrase from Indonesia meaning "sir, honk your horn, sir", and has recently gone viral.
Then a blonde woman a few seats ahead told the pair to stop shouting, in which Saleh responded by telling her to shut up and enjoy her flight.
"So the guy [Albaher] shouts it again, pumping his fists," Ellis said. The exchange continues, as Albaher shouted louder in response to the demands. Other passengers joined in telling them to stop, and the back and forth continued for a little while.
Saleh starts filming the argument on his phone, which begun to upset the other passengers. A steward then came over to calm the situation and ensure Saleh deletes the footage.
It’s then that passengers began to demand the pair be kicked off the plane, due to their behaviour. The pilot and then security then decide to take them off the plane.
"As he’s being escorted off the plane by all these people, he [Saleh] starts shouting racism, they’re all being racist, they’re kicking me off because I’m speaking Arabic," Ellis said.
It’s when Saleh gets close to the front of the plane, when someone stood up to defend him. So he starts filming it. "That’s the film that got released to YouTube," Ellis said.
"It wasn’t racial."
Ellis believes the pair were trying to be provocative. "He was just shouting out for no particular reason, and across the plane … there was no reason for him to shout," he said.
"It wasn’t racial. There was a woman speaking Arabic to her daughter and her husband, and they were sitting in front of me. No one said anything to them at any point. She even spoke Arabic the entire time," he said.
Despite negative comments saying they don’t think he was on the plane, Ellis said he came forward with his version of events because incidents like these are a distraction from real racism.
"I’m part Jamaican. So, I know what racism is like. So when I hear people use racism as a card for when they messed up, it’s really frustrating. Because real racism is out there, and you’re not going to combat it by shouting racism every time you’ve upset them," he said.
‘People were crying’
Marvin Avilez, originally from San Francisco but living in New York City, was sitting in row 25 and posted Ellis’s version of events on Facebook Wednesday.
"People were crying. They felt so uncomfortable, they felt awkward … there wasn’t fear, it was uncomfortable. It was like, why is this happening in today’s world," Avilez told TV station ABC7 following the flight.
Avilez told Mashable he’s "disappointed" it’s become such a big deal, and that he feels the media didn’t get the other side of the story.
"I think that it is a sad state of affairs that this issue has taken one of the top slots in news outlets. I am disappointed in the media since lots of the agencies report without corroboration or other points of view," he said.
Did the YouTubers change their story?
Albaher took to YouTube on Thursday night to respond to people who called them "liars" and news organisations interviewing passengers who are "against" them.
"No-one denied the fact that we were getting kicked out for speaking Arabic, because it’s true, that’s what really happened," he said.
"Obviously they’re going to have biased opinions, they were against us … in the video that’s on Twitter you can see clearly in the back they’re waving ‘bye get off the plane’ and sticking the middle finger at us. Asking them makes no sense."
Albaher also defended claims they changed their story, saying they never went into full detail with anyone except NBC News. In that interview at the airport, Saleh said he was on the phone with his mother when they received a "dirty look" from another passenger.
But in Thursday’s video, Albaher explains the real story was he was joking around and "imitating" Saleh’s Arabic before they were confronted by a female.
"Both our Arabic is broken as hell … we only speak Arabic when we don’t want people know what we’re saying," he said.
"We were laughing, chuckling, having a little giggle before the flight. And that’s when the racist woman a few rows ahead of us, she turned back. [She said] I don’t feel comfortable with you guys speaking that language, speak English."
Chris Ashford, who was on the flight, told the New York Times he believed the woman "overreacted."
"She heard somebody speaking in Arabic and assumed the worst," he told the news outlet.
Albaher also defended accusations they do "terrorist pranks." He said such videos are actually clickbait titles written to attract viewers and they always do videos that have a "strong message."
The duo will release a video on Friday where they’ve interviewed people who were there with "unbiased opinions." Albaher has been contacted by Mashable for further comment.
The truth is, who knows
While its still unclear which side of the story is true, Muslim civil rights organisations say more passengers of the faith have been asked to leave planes in recent months.
"More and more reports have been made of Muslims or Arabs, or people who were perceived to be Muslim or Arabs, who were removed from planes by airline personnel," Zainab Chaudry, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the New York Times.
"There isn’t one particular airline I can point to and say, ‘We’ve been hearing more reports on this airline than others,’ … Delta has not been one of the more common offenders."
It’s unfortunate, for his case at least, that Saleh has been associated with fake pranks. Like most recently in Australia, where he claimed to smuggle himself in a suitcase onto a plane last week.
That tall tale was thoroughly disproven by the airline, Tigerair.