A US airline has been accused of discrimination after a Muslim woman was allegedly told that she could not have an unopened can of cola because she could use it as a weapon.

Tahera Ahmad, who wears a headscarf, was travelling on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to the capital Washington DC on Saturday when she said a flight attendant refused to give her an unopened can while other passengers were given so.

When Ahmad asked the attendant for an explanation, she was told that she could not be given one for security reasons.

The woman, who works as a Muslim chaplain connected to Northwestern University, posted her account on social media, where it went viral and was reported on by media outlets globally.

"I can't help but cry on this plane because I thought people would defend me and say something," Ahmad wrote in a Facebook post.

Both the attendant involved and the plane's pilot later apologised for the incident, Ahmad wrote in a later post.

United Airlines released a statement on Saturday evening saying there had been a "misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda", and said they had tried several times to accommodate Ahmad's requests.

"The inflight crew met with Ms Ahmad after the flight arrived in Washington to provide assistance and further discuss the matter," the statement said, adding that the airline had apologised for the incident.

The incident has sparked outrage on social media, with calls for boycotting the airline and tens of thousands of mentions using various hashtags on Twitter, according to analytics site Topsy. The story was also widely shared on Facebook.

Muslim civil liberties group CAIR told Al Jazeera it would be meeting lawyers to discuss whether there were grounds to take legal action against United. 

Source: Al Jazeera