PHOENIX: US Airways, the most recent member of the airline industry to face scrutiny for stricter policies to combat terrorism, is pushing the message that its employees do not use racial profiling when determining the threat of passengers.
The major airline came under fire from Muslim groups last week when six Muslim clerics were handcuffed and escorted off a flight that was going from Minneapolis to Phoenix on their return trip from the North American Imams Federation conference, sparking Islamic advocacy groups to call for an investigation and a boycott of the airline.
The incident unfolded on November 20, prompting US Airways to defend its policies to the passengers and the media. "Our immediate focus is talking with the customers and establishing that dialogue," said Andrea Radar, director of corporate communications for US Airways.
"We have to make sure we do everything we can to ensure the safety of the airplane," Radar added. "We have experienced crew, and we do not profile and we do not discriminate, but we do have certain procedures [for removing a passenger from a plane.]"
Despite US Airways assertions, the incident has generated cries from Muslim groups. The Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is considering legal action on behalf of the Imams and is still considering its PR response, but is leaning towards launching an extensive educational campaign to educate Americans about the difference between terrorists and the Muslim religion.
"In the past when these kinds of incidents have occurred, we tried to make lemons into lemonade," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR. "We gave away free Korans when there were allegations that the Koran was desecrated at Guantanamo and we gave away free books and DVDs about the Prophet Mohammed when the Danish cartoon incident occurred. When these kind of negative events occur, you have to try to turn them into positive teaching opportunities."
Radar said that the airline is considering outreach to the Muslim groups, but has not yet made any concerted efforts. The air giant is trying to educate its passengers by issuing warnings about the proper conduct on the airplane without informing people who might want to use that information for terrorist means.
"We consider this a customer service and a security issue," said Radar. "We do not think it is indicative of any national debate."
The Air Transport Association would not comment on the activity of one of its member airlines.