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|Northwest faces bias suit|
|09/30/01 at 14:53:31|
|Northwest faces bias suit|
Utah threatens to sue airline after 3 Middle Eastern men barred from flight
September 28, 2001: 6:49 a.m. ET
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Utah officials have threatened to sue Northwest Airlines for keeping three Middle Eastern men off a Salt Lake City-bound flight last week after passengers, nervous over the hijack attacks on the United States, said they did not feel safe.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on Thursday asked Northwest Airlines' Chief Executive Richard Anderson in a letter for a meeting with executives to find out why the airline would not let the three men on the flight. Shurtleff's spokesman, Paul Murphy, said the state threatened a civil lawsuit against the airline if the matter was not resolved.
Since the attacks on New York and Washington with hijacked commercial airliners, there have been a few incidents in which U.S. air passengers or crew have objected to flying with passengers who appeared to be from the Middle East.
This incident occurred Sept. 20 after the men flew from Philadelphia to Minneapolis and were slated to continue to Salt Lake City where they live. They said a Northwest representative stopped them from taking their ticketed flight because the crew and other passengers refused to get on the plane with the three men.
"We understand these are fearful times. But we can not let fear become an excuse to discriminate," Shurtleff said in his letter. The men were put on the next available flight.
Northwest spokesman Doug Killian said the airline was reviewing the letter. He reiterated the company's statement issued last week that the airline "regrets any misunderstanding that may have occurred Sept 20" and that it was investigating the incident. Killian said the captain of a flight makes decisions about flying.
Separately, the Minneapolis-based airline delayed $5.5 million in payments to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport due this month and is considering delaying payments to other airports, a spokeswoman for the carrier said Thursday. While Northwest is current at its other airport hubs in Detroit and Memphis, Schubert said there was a possibility that payments to other airports may also be delayed.
The airport would be out an estimated $43 million from its $155 million operating budget if Northwest, its largest carrier, fails to make any more payments this year. The carrier's next payment of just over $2.8 million is due Monday.
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