Arabs victims of passenger, crew mistrust

by Justin Ware

In the wake of this month’s terrorist attacks, some airline passengers are looking twice at who is buckled in next to them.

“I am kind of nervous,” said Sandi Gannott, a national trainer for a product testing company who was waiting to fly at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Anxious passengers prevailed last week when Northwest Airlines did not allow three Arab-Americans to board a Minneapolis-to-Utah flight after passengers and the flight crew refused to fly with them.

The three men live in Salt Lake City and were on their way home from Philadelphia. After being removed, the men flew home on a Delta flight.

Northwest said that under government security rules it has to re-accommodate passengers if their actions or presence makes a majority of other passengers feel uncomfortable.

“I sympathize with those (on the plane),” Gannott said. “I would feel uncomfortable traveling with (Arab-Americans).”

Charles Samuelson, director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, said he heard that one of the redirected men is seeking a lawsuit based on racial discrimination.

“If this is actually what has happened, it’s wrong and it is un-American,” Samuelson said. “We can do better than that.”

Waiting for her family to arrive from Kenya, an Arab-American woman who declined to give her name said she has not had any race-related problems in Minnesota. But she said she has relatives who have experienced forms of hatred in Florida and Georgia.

“We have not had problems (in Minnesota),” the woman said. “Everyone has been very supportive here.”

Amy Stretmater, a graduate student studying in Ireland, said it would cross her mind to worry about traveling with Arab-Americans, but she would never act on her apprehension.

“If it were a man or group of men, I might be concerned,” Stretmater said, “but never of a family.”

In general, Stretmater said, she felt more safe due to the increased airport security.

“It’s probably safer now than it was before,” she said.

Laura Kosel, who was on her way to France to teach English, said it is very unfortunate people do not feel safe with Arab-appearing people on planes.

“I feel there is a lot of prejudice in the U.S. against Arabs,” Kosel said.

“If (the three Arab men) went through security checks, they should be able to fly where they want, American citizens or not,” she said.

Kosel said she went through extensive security checks that took nearly an hour and a half to complete.

“Historically, we’ve entrusted our flight and cabin crew with the safety of the passengers,” Northwest spokesman Curt Evenhoch said.

Evenhoch said he would not comment on the incident due to litigation but did say the airline regrets the event occurred.

The Arab men said they felt depressed and the victims of discrimination.

The men said they had gone through the procedural security checks before boarding the plane.


– The Associated Press
contributed to this report

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]