Provocative YouTube Star Adam Saleh Claims Speaking in Arabic Got Him Booted From Delta Flight - NBC 6 South Florida
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Provocative YouTube Star Adam Saleh Claims Speaking in Arabic Got Him Booted From Delta Flight

Delta says he sought to disrupt flight

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    YouTube star Adam Saleh tells NBC News of getting kicked off a Delta flight after another he says woman seated near him became alarmed when he and his friend spoke in Arabic and gesticulated and laughed loudly. Another passenger on the same flight describes the scene from his perspective. Saleh also responds to questions about whether the incident was some sort of stunt for media attention. Read the entire story here. (Published Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016)

    A popular YouTube personality with a history of filming pranks and social experiments says he was kicked off a Delta flight in London after other passengers expressed their discomfort with him speaking Arabic while on the phone. The airline countered that Saleh "sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior." 

    Adam Saleh tweeted a video about 6 a.m. ET Wednesday that showed him in a packed airplane bound for New York City with a friend and a flight attendant behind him. There are several people in Delta reflector vests on the plane as well.

    "We're getting kicked out because we spoke a different language. This is 2016," Saleh says in the video. "I feel like crying."

    Saleh later tweeted that he and his companion boarded a different airline's flight to New York City after speaking with police and going through Heathrow Airport's security again.

    After landing in New York, he told NBC News that a woman sitting near him first became annoyed when he spoke with his mother over the phone, and then expressed anger when he began speaking with his friend on the flight with him in Arabic and laughing loudly and gesticulating. 

    "She was like, 'Oh, my God, you need to speak English, I feel so uncomfortable,'" said Saleh. 

    He said a man sitting with the woman stood up and told Saleh's friend, "You need to get chucked off the [expletive] plane."

    "And it just turned into a whole chain reaction, like 10, 15 to 20 people got up, like, 'They need to get off, stuff happened in Germany, I don't feel comfortable here!'" he said. 

    The news garnered disparate reactions on social media, as some expressed outrage against Delta while others were skeptical of the prankster's account. Saleh insists this was not a stunt.

    "If we were doing a joke or a prank, we would have our official camera. We had our phone camera to pull out," he told NBC News, though he later added that his friend pulled out a professional camera afterward to film the aftermath. "My life isn't a prank." 

    But Delta said Saleh "sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting," based on the information the airline collected from the flight's crew and several passengers that were interviewed after the flight landed at John F. Kennedy Airport. 

    "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," Delta said in a statement. 

    Saleh said he's angry because "they can take advantage of people like my mom, who don't even speak English at all."

    "What if my mom was there? She has no camera, she has nothing, and they kick her off in a nice way? She's in a position where no one has seen anything," he said. 

    Passenger Marvin Avilez corroborated Saleh's account of a woman acting aggresively toward him, telling NBC News he saw a woman standing up and pointing and jabbing in the air toward Saleh. 

    But he said the other travelers were more disappointed and frustrated by the way Saleh was acting.

    "It was the gesturing and the posturing," said Avilez. "In fact, one person I spoke to said, 'Look, I knew he was joking. But it went too far. It just wasn't appropriate for a plane flight leaving London for New York City.'"

    Avilez added, "His actions were inappropriate for this type of setting. It's kind of like telling a really bad joke or saying something politically incorrect at a dinner table with your family." 

    Earlier Wednesday, Delta said it was investigating the allegation. The airline said more than 20 customers had reported being uncomfortable by the behavior of two men on the flight.

    Some online compared it to an incident from November, when a white man stood up in the aisle of a Delta plane and went on an expletive-laced, pro-Donald Trump rant. He was not removed from the aisle, though Delta later barred him from flying the airline.

    "Remember that token statement @Delta made about diversity after the white supremacist WASNT kicked off?" attorney Qasim Rashid tweeted. "This is why I'll never fly Delta."

    People have been removed from airplanes for speaking in Arabic before.

    In April, an Iraqi refugee who attends the Unviersity of California, Berkeley said he was removed from a Southwest flight and questioned by the FBI after a passenger overheard him speak in Arabic. Southwest said crew members were investigating "potentially threatening" comments. The Council on American-Islamic Relations later filed a federal complaint on the student's behalf.

    And while Saleh said he was speaking to his mother before being kicked off the plane, the video posted online does not show what prompted the incident.

    "I can assure you that this was not a prank,” a member of Saleh's London-based management team told NBC in an email.

    Another YouTube personality who said he was kicked off the plane as well had, a few hours earlier, posted a video that showed him walking up to an English man in what appears to be an airport and asking him in a kind of Arabic accent where the toilet was. The video was captioned "this is too fun," and Saleh retweeted it.

    Saleh has been posting to YouTube for five years, with 3.91 million subscribers and 657 million video views on two accounts.

    Many of Saleh's videos involve pranks or so-called social experiments. The most watched video on his personal account claims to test whether women are more likely to talk to a stranger on his own or if he has a red Ferrari. In the next most widely watched video, also from 2013, he and a friend repeatedly pray in New York's Union Square to find how people will react.

    One popular video they posted, appearing to show a New York police officer stopping and frisking a man in traditional dress soon after watching him walk by in contemporary American clothing, was staged and meant to dramatize racial profiling they see regularly, according to the Huffington Post.

    Last week, Saleh claimed he flew in the luggage hold of an Australian plane, though TigerAir refuted it as a stunt promoting dangerous behavoir, the New Zealand Herald reported.

    He has posted other videos showing himself on planes. In January, he and a companion put on headscarfs for a flight "since people can wear whatever they want and feel comfortable," he explained.

    In the same video, he films himself speaking Arabic with apparent strangers at an airport, and kisses a sleeping stranger as well.