The international rugby player who made headlines after getting booted off a Qantas flight from Bali has come forward to present his side of the story.
Zakir Slaimankhel, who has represented Afghanistan in rugby, says he and his young family were “embarrassed, dehumanised and belittled” by flight attendants during an “abhorrent customer experience” ahead of a flight home to Sydney on October 19.
“The racist undertones on display throughout the communication and actions of Qantas staff members was beyond disrespectful,” he wrote on Facebook on Monday, almost two weeks after footage of the altercation went viral on TikTok.
Rugby player claims staff made racist remark
In the clip, which was filmed while the plane was still on the Denpasar tarmac, Mr Slaimenkhel can be heard arguing loudly with cabin crew, demanding that they apologise to his wife for making her cry.
He now claims that tensions escalated when his wife went to change his five-month-old son’s nappy in the toilet after it was announced the flight departure would be delayed due to mechanical reasons.
While waiting to use the bathroom, Mr Slaimenkhel said cabin staff “sternly” told his wife off for “inhibiting the toilet doors from opening” before later staring at her and referring to her hijab as a “head thingy".
“My wife was shocked and started shaking,” he said.
“The behaviour of the staff members made her feel extremely humiliated and distraught. She began crying and told them that they were very rude and condescending towards her.
“In response, they were unsympathetically dismissive of her feelings and concerns.
“It made her question herself and feel powerless being a visible Muslin who wears a hijab.
‘Traumatic ripple effects of disrespectful behaviour’
Mr Slaimenkhel, who is a charity ambassador for Muslims Around the World, went on to explain in the lengthy Facebook post his wife returned to her seat “shaking and crying in a state of emotional distress".
“I approached the Qantas staff seeking an explanation and apology for the ordeal she went through .. [but] we were shunned and ejected from the airport by security,” he said.
Mr Slaimenkhel says the “unwarranted” incident has had “traumatic ripple effects” on the lives on his family with his wife experiencing “constant flashbacks of the ordeal"
“The viral TikTok videos of the ordeal amassed over 5.7 million views within 24 hours, which has led to character assassination of me,” he said.
Qantas denies claims of racism and bans passengers
While Facebook users have applauded Mr Slaimenkhel for “standing up to disgusting behaviour", Qantas is rejecting all allegations of racism.
“We conducted a thorough review of the claims made by Mr Slaimenkhel and his wife [and] Qantas strongly denies that its crew spoke to either [of them] in a racist or rude manner,” a spokesperson for the national carrier told Yahoo News Australia.
“Our staff also deny making any inappropriate comments regarding the passenger’s attire.
“This has been supported by other passengers who witnessed the interactions.”
In the statement, Qantas went on to explain that Mr Slaimenkhel and his wife were removed from the aircraft after “verbally abusing crew a number of times".
“The safety of our customers and crew is our number one priority and we do not tolerate any kind of abusive behaviour,” the spokesperson said.
“As a result of our review into the incidents onboard, Mr Slaimenkhel and his wife have been issued with no-fly orders with Qantas Group airlines for their behaviour towards our crew.”
Mr Slaimenkhel, who represented Afghanistan at the Asia Rugby Sevens earlier this year, had been on a two week holiday with family and friends in Bali.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.