British boxer Amir Khan believes his skin colour may be the reason for a decision by American Airlines to remove him from a flight.
The airline said Khan was taken off the plane for failing to comply with a string of rules including wearing a face mask.
The former world champion suggested that rather than ejecting him and his colleague for their behaviour, cabin crew “didn’t feel comfortable” with the two Asians in the plane only a week after the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.
The airline said Khan and his friend refused to switch their phones on to flight mode, stow luggage in the proper place and comply with federal rules on face masks.
But speaking to Sky News on Monday, Khan denied he had argued with staff.
The incident happened on September 18 on Flight 700 from Newark to Dallas.
Khan, 34, and his friend were enroute to a training camp and took their seats at the front of the plane when the problems unfolded.
He said staff complained that his face covering “was not high enough” but he insisted “my mask was always up” and said his friend lowered his face covering only to take a sip of water.
He explained how the plane started moving down the runway and as he was trying to fall asleep the aircraft ground to a halt and police walked on board to escort the pair off.
“It was quite embarrassing standing up in front of a full plane and I think even they [the other passengers] were shocked that, you know, why are the police in the aeroplane and why are they taking us two young boys who have literally sat at the front?” he said.
“I just feel like, you know, I was just treated really badly.
“It was a week after 9/11 [anniversary] and I do feel that, you know, things are a little bit tense but to be picked on, two Asian boys sat at the front, being told that at the front of the plane, it was quite embarrassing really.”
Pressed on whether he believed the colour of his skin and the recent 20th anniversary of 9/11 were the reasons for the airline’s decision, he replied: “I’m not saying that but I think it might have something to do with that.”
He suggested the cabin crew “didn’t feel comfortable” with the presence of two Asian people on the flight and said he believed he hadn’t done anything wrong.
American Airlines were contacted for comment on Khan’s racism claims and responded with a statement.
“Prior to take-off on September 18, American Airlines Flight 700, with service from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), returned to the gate to deplane two customers who reportedly refused to comply with repeated crew member requests to stow luggage, place cell phones in airplane mode and adhere to federal face-covering requirements.
"Our customer relations team has reached out to Mr Khan to learn more about his experience and reinforce the importance of policies implemented for the safety of our customers and crew.”
Khan and his colleague have been banned from flying with American Airlines and its parent company OneWorld.
Khan was born to Pakistani immigrants in the town of Bolton, Greater Manchester.
He often spends months at a time at training camps in the US and on September 18 he was supposed to fly to a compound in Colorado to prepare for his next bout.
After the incident, Khan posted a message on Twitter claiming American Airlines had “banned” him from all flights.
“Disgusted to be banned by @AmericanAir and @traveloneworld for not been able to fly to training camp, I got escorted by police off the plane for no reason,” he said in a video.
“I would like to see evidence for any wrong doings!”
He also tweeted the airline's response.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, who is also British-Pakistani, said it was important for people to “speak out when we feel like we’ve been treated wrongly”.