Ever since 9/11 and the total destruction of the World Trade center, Americans have been on edge about our national security, especially the ability to fly safely. Just when we thought things were beginning to look up for security measures in the airline industry, they have been slapped around like a red-headed step child and basically have been sent to timeout to think about what they’ve done. For the first time since the attacks on 9/11 a man of apparent Portuguese decent has been awarded $400,000 by a federal jury in Boston Massachusetts. John Cerqueira (39) was removed from an American Airlines flight heading to Florida from Logan international on December 28, 2003. Why was he removed? The supposed answer is because he had been sitting beside 2 other men that were from Israel and they had been acting odd and frightening the crew before take-off.
American Airline Captain John Ehlers stated that 3 men were acting suspicious and making inappropriate comments while in the boarding area as well as on board the plane. Cerqueira and the other 2 men were escorted from the plane and Cerqueira was detained and questioned for 2 hours. Afterwards, the police cleared Cerqueira but American Airlines refused to allow him on any of their planes. Apparently Cerqueira lives in Miami and was trying to return home on the initial flight, but instead was detained and then not allowed to fly with the original carrier. He had been visiting family in Massachusetts over the holidays and was simply trying to return home to southern Florida. Cerqueira, a Stanford graduate, stated that he had been racially profiled to be an Arab man instead of a man of Portuguese decent. He stated that a trooper had told him “You’re just the poor chap who got seated next to these two other guys.”
The jury awarded Cerqueira a total of $400,000 because of this “incident”. After only a 6-day trial, he was officially awarded $130,000 compensatory damages and $270,000 in punitive damages. Cerqueira told the Boston Globe, “I felt like I was being treated like a terrorist and there was no way I could prove I didn’t do anything or say anything at all. I’m grateful to the jury for sending the message to American Airlines that just the use of the word security isn’t an excuse for unlawful behavior.” He went on to say, “I do realize September 11th weighs hard on our consciences and everyone is interested in better and safe than sorry, but if they had just put me on another plane, none of this would have happened.” Because the flight contained people that needed to be detained due to suspicious behavior, American Airlines also removed all others and re-checked all baggage, thus delaying the flight and costing the carrier money from the beginning.
However, American Airlines and the Pilots Association are both up in arms over the verdict in this case. Pete Janhunen, a spokesman of the Airline Pilot Association, stated “The pilot in command is responsible for everything that happens involving that flight. We need to ensure that the authority of the Captain is protected so that they’re never intimidated or afraid to make the right call.” Even though there has not been an official statement released from American Airlines about the specifics of the case, they have hinted that this will probably not be the final decision. They will be evaluating all of their legal options and quite possibly file an appeal.
-The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/01/16/jury_awards_airline_passenger_400000/, Shelly Murphy, 2007 January 16.
-The Boston Herald, http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=177368, Laurel Sweet, Article #2, 2007 January 16.
-The Boston Herald, http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=177181, Laurel Sweet, Article #1, 2007 January 15.
-Aero News Network, http://www.aero-news.net/index.cfm?ContentBlockID=7c9780b7-b8ab-4575-a1db-78d2c94e37a0, 2007 January 16.