Northwest Airlines Apologizes to Civil Rights Groups

November 08, 2001

The CEO and Executive Vice President of Northwest Airlines have sent a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan to apologize for the treatment of three passengers of Middle East descent who were removed from a plane on September 20 because other passengers were uncomfortable about flying with them on a Northwest flight after the September 11th attack.

The letter is in response to criticism by the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LASED), the Arab Community Center for Economic Social Justice  (ACCESS), the Arab Chamber of Commerce, and the National Lawyers Guild. The groups had written Northwest Airlines to express concern that the treatment of the men violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as federal and state public accommodations laws.  

“Removal of passengers based solely on harmful stereotypes is not only illegal, it is an ineffective and insensitive security measure,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. 

The organizations also asked that steps be taken to ensure that an incident such as that which occurred, not be repeated and that Northwest Airlines refrain from engaging in the practice of racial profiling. 

“We are hopeful that Northwest will learn from its mistake and take affirmative stops and not engage is humiliating acts of racial profiling in the future,” Moss added. 

It appears from the response letter that the airline understands that.  Richard Edlund, Northwest Airlines’ Administrator, wrote, “Security concerns must focus on passenger behavior, not on passenger appearance.”

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