- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

US Airways is asking a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a group of Muslim imams, saying the airline followed government guidelines when it removed the group from a flight for suspicious behavior.

In responding to the imams’ lawsuit filed March 12 in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, U.S. Airways says it “is required to adhere to the main points of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Common Strategy regarding security threats in the aviation context.”

The strategy advises flight crew members to be “alert for odd or suspicious behavior during all interactions with passengers in the gate area, during the boarding process and during routine flight duties and passenger interactions.”

“Flight crew members are required to mentally assess each passenger’s behavior and the potential for threat. Moreover, the Common Strategy notes that this is a subjective analysis and recognizes that there is no key factor that applies in every situation,” the lawsuit response said.

“Notably, the Common Strategy advises flight crews to ‘Presume the worst,’ and ‘Be suspicious about any passenger disturbance,’ ” the airline’s filing said.

The imams’ lawsuit also names the Metropolitan Airports Commission and unidentified John Does as defendants. Their claims include false arrest, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, failure to train, conspiracy to discriminate, and negligence.

The airline says it denied transportation to Ahmed Shqeirat, Mohamed Ibrahim, Didmar Faja, Omar Shahin, Mahmoud Sulaiman and Marwan Sadeddin in November 2006 “due to security concerns.”

The attorney for the imams did not respond to a request for reaction.

The imams say they did nothing wrong or suspicious on the flight, and are victims of discrimination because of their religion.

The airline’s response clears up confusion as to whether some of the imams were flying on one-way tickets. Because four of the men arrived just minutes before their original flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis, they were not allowed to board and were forced to take another flight.

When airline officials initiated their investigation to determine whether the men should be removed from the returning flight, it appeared on the computer database that they had purchased one-way tickets.

Citing a court test on the propriety of an airline to refuse transport, the response said it should be based on what the airline learned at the time, and not “later disclosed by hindsight.”

“The carrier’s discretion is protected ‘if exercised in good faith and for a rational reason,’ ” the response said.

When some of the men asked for seat-belt extensions, a flight attendant passed that information to the captain, the response said, and one of the imams seated in first class walked to the rear of the plane twice to speak with the other imams.

“A seatbelt extender is a fabric strap with a metal buckle at the end. Generally, oversized individuals use this device during air travel if they cannot comfortably fasten the standard aircraft seatbelt. This device can potentially be used as a weapon,” the response said.

The response confirms that one imam had been upgraded to first class; it was a seat switch in coach that caused concern.

The response said the aircraft captain’s decision to deny transportation was based on a note from a passenger that said some of the men made “anti-U.S. comments,” along with the request for seat-belt extensions, the movement of one imam “through the cabin during the delay” and the report that some of the men were flying on one-way tickets.

The airline refunded the money for the flight the imams missed when they were detained by federal officials for four hours of questioning. The airline also offered to pay overnight lodging, but said the men declined and returned home on another airline.

“U.S. Airways is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it acted within its statutory discretion when it refused to transport plaintiffs due to safety concerns,” the response said.

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