Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An Islamic civil rights group is calling for an investigation to determine why 40 Muslims were not allowed to board a flight from Germany to Detroit after their pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Northwest Airlines officials said the passengers arrived too late to catch the flight, but some of the Muslims, appearing at a press conference yesterday with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called it religious discrimination.

The Muslims arrived at the Frankfurt airport at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 7 on a charter plane from Saudi Arabia. They did not show up at the ticket counter until about 20 minutes before the Detroit-bound Flight 51 left at 10:20 a.m., said Dean Breest, a Northwest Airlines spokesman.

The airline industry and governmental agencies have check-in and boarding deadlines to help ensure on-time departures, and Northwest Airlines policy states that passengers must check in for international flights at least 60 minutes before departure and be aboard the aircraft at least 30 minutes before departure.

“The rules are the rules,” said Roman Blahoski, spokesman for Northwest Airlines. “It does not matter who they are; they would be turned away because the flight had already closed.”

Mr. Blahoski said, “Northwest takes these accusations very seriously,” but “these passengers were denied boarding because they did not meet the standard check-in deadline.”

Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., told reporters that the travelers, who included two imams, were stranded and left on their own to find flights home.

Mr. Breest, however, said those who arrived at the gate in time with boarding passes were allowed onto the plane, and that those who could not be accommodated were rescheduled for other flights.

“It has nothing to do with religion, but when you have to be on the plane,” Mr. Breest said. “They just were not there in time.

“We’re sorry, but we did get them to the next destination as soon as possible. We were still able to process some of them and get them on the flight, then rebooked the rest of the group the same day for flights via Amsterdam.”

Mr. Al-Qazwini demanded an apology from the airline as well as unspecified compensation.

If the airline does not meet their demands, Mr. Al-Qazwini said, he may call for a Muslim boycott of Northwest.

In November, six imams who were removed from a US Airways flight after exhibiting suspicious behavior called for a boycott of that airline. The Muslims retained CAIR as their legal representatives and have threatened to file a lawsuit.

US Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader said: “We’re in contact with them but we have no resolution.”

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