A local couple and their younger siblings said racism and threats forced them to fly back to India. It happened as the blizzard and flight delays in New York this past weekend jammed up air traffic around the world.
Shohana Islam, 26, and Marc Fernandes, 27, tried to fly home on Aeroflot, but they said they were turned around by a threatening and racist agent for the airline in Moscow.
They're American citizens, but they were eventually forced on to a flight back to India.
On a video they posted to Facebook, the agent, who they know only as Mikhail, tells them, "All citizens of the country that need visas in our country after 24 hours will be deported." "Deported to the US!" Fernandes responds. "Deport me, please deport me!" said Islam.
The desperate couple had pleaded with the Aeroflot agent to put them on any flight headed west.
"We even said, you don't have to give us a hotel, we have lounge access like we'll literally go stay in a lounge and sleep in sofas and chairs. Book us on the next flight to anywhere in the U.S., to London, Paris, any major hub," they said in an interview from New Delhi via Skype.
Instead, the agent ordered them on to that flight back to India. "He was this close to my face, yelling at me, telling me he was going to cause so many problems for me," said Islam. "We were like threatened; if you don't get on this flight, you will face deportation, if you don't get on this flight, we will make your life worse for you."
"You will face extra charges, we will make sure you are hit with every single fine," Fernandes said he told them. "We will make sure you don't get any flights out of Russia at all."
"Basically, if you don't get on this flight, we will make your life a living hell," said Islam
Islam and Fernandes had been vacationing in India with their younger brother and sister. And with 16 friends from the DC area.
The couple said their treatment violates rules established by the International Air Transport Association, which mandates that travelers in this kind of situations, hotel accommodations be given and sent on to their destinations or their home countries.
A spokesman for Aeroflot said the airline is conducting a "thorough internal investigation."
The Fairfax couple said Aeroflot was much more accommodating to passengers with lighter complexions. "They didn't face deportation," said Islam. "They weren't given visas. They were taken to a lounge, and they were told, 'Hey, go to the lounge, we'll take your info, and I'm going to give you a call when a flight is available," said Fernandes.
"Because we looked Indian, everyone was made to go back to India," said Islam, who is working on her MBA at Georgetown University.
Aeroflot allegedly told them it couldn't get them home until January 15, so they're flying home in two days on Qatar Airways instead.
They estimate this disaster will eventually cost them as much as $10,000 in new flights and lost wages.
A spokesman for Aeroflot said the company aims to deliver, "the highest standards of customer service, even in the midst of major travel disruptions due to weather, and we regret the tremendous inconvenience caused to passengers in this case."