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American Airlines Claims Secret Service Agent was 'Hostile' and 'Abusive'

Friday, 04 January 2002 12:00 AM

The agent was waiting for a second flight from Baltimore, Md. to Dallas, Texas, after the first had been cancelled due to mechanical problems. The pilot says the agent's "strange behavior" is what started the altercation.

"[The flight] attendant brought to my attention that she and other [flight attendants] were concerned about the actions of one of the [passengers.] This [passenger] left the aircraft with carry-on bags still in his seat," the pilot wrote in his report. "He told the [flight attendant] please don't leave without him. While the [passenger] was away, a [flight attendant] observed books in the individual's seat which were written in what she assessed was Arabic style print."

The pilot writes that the agent's behavior prompted him to review the forms the agent had filled out requesting to be armed on board the aircraft, which the pilot claims were completed improperly.

"The form was unreadable because it was a carbon-copy and there were missing items," the pilot stated in his incident report. "I then had the agent come back and recheck his credentials and give me a new [form.] Again this form was filled out improperly."

But at least one passenger aboard the plane told a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group that the agent's race, not his behavior prompted the increased scrutiny.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says the agent's seatmate claims the actions of the flight crew amounted to "blatant profiling."

"He was kicked off the plane because of his race," the passenger allegedly told CAIR.

The organization, which is handling the agent's civil rights complain against American, says the passenger came to that conclusion because of the comments and demeanor of a flight attendant who allegedly searched the agent's jacket after he was removed from the plane.

The agent's seatmate, CAIR claims, said the flight attendant indicated she was not comfortable with the presence of the agent, particularly after she found a book on Middle Eastern history in his jacket.

The pilot's story is corroborated, however, by the manager of AA's System Operations Control Center (SOCC), located more than 1,000 miles from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).

The SOCC manager's report describes receiving two telephone calls from the pilot, who expressed his concerns about an armed passenger. After the pilot asked the agent to complete the armed passenger declaration form a second time, another AA employee called the SOCC manager.

"The next phone call I received was from the AA ticket agent at BWI. He said that the Secret Service agent had verbally abused the Captain and that the Captain was denying him boarding," the SOCC manager wrote. "I asked to speak to the police officer that was witness to this, who then verified what the ticket agent had stated. Based on this, I then decided to end boarding to this passenger on future AA flights."

The pilot has filed a complaint against the agent with the Secret Service Internal Affairs division. The Secret Service agent has filed a civil rights claim through CAIR, and is being represented in his demand for an apology by the Washington, D.C. civil rights law firm Relman and Associates.

While the agent has not filed a lawsuit, attorney Christy Lopez says that option has not been ruled out, although any damages awarded to the agent would be given to victims of the September 11 attacks. She says the agent's law enforcement credentials were verified by three different police officers, but the pilot would not accept the verification.

The airline is standing by its employees it says, despite the complaints and potential legal action, because of the reports filed by the pilot and SOCC manager.

"These reports paint a clear and consistent picture of what occurred during this agent's attempt to board Flight 363," AA said in a prepared statement. "American will not allow any armed individual on board, regardless of who he or she is, if that person is angry or acting in a manner that the crew believes could jeopardize the safety of the flight."

Calls to Relman and Associates and the U.S. Secret Service were not returned prior to the publication of this story.

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The agent was waiting for a second flight from Baltimore, Md. to Dallas, Texas, after the first had been cancelled due to mechanical problems. The pilot says the agent's strange behavior is what started the altercation. [The flight] attendant brought to my attention...
Friday, 04 January 2002 12:00 AM
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