Airline discrimination unreasonable

Santa Claus came early for Northwest and the nation’s other airlines, and like children who no longer feel the need to behave after the jolly old gent has delivered the goodies, Northwest and its compatriots have gleefully unpacked their $15 billion aid package while at the same time allowing the Scrooges in their organizations to discriminate openly against their Arab and Arab-American passengers.

Northwest removed three Arab-Americans from a flight from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City on Thursday after the flight crew objected to their presence and passengers became nervous. The men were interrogated by police and given $10 food vouchers by Northwest before being allowed onto a Delta flight to Salt Lake City four hours later.

It is alarming enough that Northwest has chosen to fuel the anti-Arab hue and cry that has arisen, but these circumstances make Northwest’s paranoid conduct particularly inexcusable.

According to the police report, those who observed the men in the airport became suspicious because “they kept looking at their watches, kept their heads down, walked to and from the men’s room regularly and kept staring at the officers.” These are habits of bored passengers, but apparently Northwest now views them as the trademarks of terrorists.

After a Northwest representative informed police that the flight crew would not board unless authorities cleared the three Arab-Americans, the men were questioned by police, the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Their identifications were verified, the men were checked against wanted-terrorist lists, and the three allowed authorities to inspect their checked bags and a carry-on.

Northwest spokeswoman Kathy Peach told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that other passengers and the crew might not have gotten on the plane if the Arab-Americans were allowed to board, and she feebly defended Northwest’s actions: “Now nobody is going to Salt Lake City? Is that reasonable?”

No, Ms. Peach. “Reasonable” lost its meaning when some Americans decided everyone with dark skin and Middle Eastern accents needs to prove their loyalties before they can be trusted. Discrimination by flight crews on Delta and US Airways, death threats to the Holy Land restaurant, the vandalism of the Arab-American-owned Dinkytown Tobacco – all these have contributed to turning “reasonable” on its head.

Actions such as Northwest’s, in addition to being illegal and just plain wrong, destroy the image the United States needs to project to be successful in its efforts against terrorism, and they destroy the solidarity Americans must maintain to live somewhat normal lives while that effort continues.

It is particularly disingenuous for Northwest to act so divisively while receiving the aid package the nation’s unity has produced so quickly and generously. Northwest owes the nation a focus on security, not irrational panic.