Group wants compensation after 40 are kept off flight
A group of metro Detroiters is threatening to lead a boycott of Northwest Airlines over what they say is a pattern of profiling against Muslim passengers.
“I know that many Muslims call Northwest ‘Northworst’… for its treatment to the Muslim community,” Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini, head of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, said Tuesday.
Al-Qazwini was in a group of about 40 pilgrims who were prevented from boarding a connecting flight in Germany to Detroit on Jan. 7 while returning from a trip to holy cities in Saudi Arabia. The Muslim group, most of whom are Lebanese-American Shi’ites, held a news conference Tuesday at the Dearborn mosque to describe what they say happened to them. They called for Northwest to apologize, compensate them, and discipline the employees they said profiled them.
“Otherwise,” Al-Qazwini said, “if Northwest will not do that, then probably we have to call all Muslim organizations to encourage Muslims from not flying on Northwest.”
With tens of thousands of Muslim customers, Northwest could be hurt financially by such a boycott, Al-Qazwini suggested, adding that “I hope Northwest will be wiser.”
But Northwest officials defended their actions Tuesday, repeating that the 40 or so pilgrims were unable to board because they weren’t at the gate in time.
“They showed up at the gate late,” said Dean Breest, a spokesman for Northwest Airlines. “All customers need to be on time.”
Northwest Airlines requires passengers to check in for international flights at least 60 minutes prior to departure and to be on board the aircraft at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, according to a statement it issued.
Al-Qazwini and other pilgrims said Tuesday that they were at the gate at least an hour and a half before departure time.
“We were treated really, really, really badly,” said Jennifer Zreik, 29, of Dearborn, one of the travelers.
According to Zreik and others, some of the Muslims with the group were allowed on the plane. But about 40 were not.
Some of the travelers said they had to spend the night at the airport; others had to pay $77 in penalty fees and more in hotel costs — without reimbursement.
Breest said, “I’m very sorry to hear that happened,” but added this case has nothing to do with profiling.
Most of the pilgrims in the group are from Michigan, said Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group that has been fighting profiling of Muslims at airports. The council organized the news conference.
Al-Qazwini said he was recently prevented from praying on a Northwest Airlines flight.
But Breest said Northwest does not discriminate. He pointed out the high-profile case of Muslim imams who were escorted off a US Airways jet in November at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after they made Islamic prayers. The imams were eventually flown home by Northwest Airlines, he said.