Sun, Oct 01, 2006
Passengers Feared He Was A Terrorist
In yet another sad example of how the acts of few can lead to
the stereotyping of many, a Spanish university professor says he
was briefly forced off an airliner in Mallorca last month, after
passengers were frightened by his long beard and dark complexion
that made him appear to be Muslim.
Pablo Gutierrez Vega told the Associated Press he felt
humiliated when three German passengers on an August 30 Air Berlin
flight approached him during a layover in Palma de Mallorca, and
asked to search his carry-on luggage. The men told Gutierrez Vega
other passengers were afraid he was a terrorist.
"They treated me like an Islamic terrorist because of my
appearance," Gutierrez Vega said, in an account posted this week on
the website of El Pais.
A representative with the airline confirmed the incident took
place. "I acknowledged that we contributed to this man going
through something very unpleasant," said Alvaro Middelmann, Air
Berlin's managing director for Spain and Portugal.
While he initially thought the men were undercover police
officers, Gutierrez Vega soon realized the men had no legal
authority to demand a search -- and refused to hand over his bags.
The incident escalated to the point the pilot approached the group,
and took the professor off the plane to speak with him in
"The pilot said the passengers believed I was a Muslim,"
Gutierrez Vega said.
The pilot apologized for the behavior of the three men, and
said he was willing to take them off the plane before continuing on
to Germany. He also offered to keep the man's carry-on luggage in
the cockpit, to calm other passengers... which is what Gutierrez
Vega eventually did.
"I didn't want to cause any problems," said the man after the
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