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From an e-mail to partners in Europe, after a business trip to Milan.  I returned through London.  GTJ

What I do for my firm's international operations!!

It happened again. Remember how I told you all the story of how, when I went to the short December meeting in Paris for a one-day meeting I found myself at the American Airlines section in the company of Richard Ried, the guy who tried to light his shoe? Happily, I did not know it at the time. Well, Saturday when I was returning from Milan and changing planes at Heathrow, I found myself on American Airlines flight 47 to Chicago. I was comfortably in my seat on a very overbooked flight, when a group of 20 young men, of apparently Middle Eastern origin, boarded the flight and marched together, about ten in each aisle, to coach. Therein followed a long period when we got confusing announcements from the captain about delays due to the overbooking situation and then the need for a new crew, since the overbooking delays had taken certain crew members past their legal work hours.  After further delays, the two security officials who had checked us in boarded the plane and peacefully escorted out all 20 young men. Everything was very disciplined.  There was a vague announcement about certain of the passengers having documentation issues. Then followed a tortured process of asking us all to return to our originally assigned seats for a seat check. Then the two security officials did a thorough check of all the areas where the 20 had sat, and they verified that any stowed carry-ons belonged to a passenger still on the flight. We took off 2-1/2 hours late, without further explanation.

We passengers, of course, all talked among themselves. What I learned from a passenger sitting ahead of me near the galley was that one or more crew members had refused to fly with the group of 20. The pilot wanted to proceed and requested another crew. He agreed, however, that the documentation of the 20 should be rechecked. Lo and behold, they were all Pakistani citizens and, according to the report I heard, the only paper explaining the purpose of their visit was a hand-written note stating that their intention was to obtain "military training" in the US. This was totally inadequate, so they were asked to leave, which they did without objection.

Were we in any danger? Who knows. Were they on an official mission and properly on board that flight? Who knows. Was I disturbed that 20 people made it on an airplane to the US with paperwork that later proved to be insufficient? Yes, of course. On the way out of the airplane, I asked the pursar if the authorities were involved with what had happened, and she said, yes they were ... very much.  I did see all the flight attendants writing out personal statements during the flight, which I found reassuring.

My family has asked me since what it was like to spend the next eight hours or so on that flight. Actually, it went by very quickly because all the passengers found themselves talking to each other and comparing notes.

Note:  Over a week later, CNN published an explanation:

CNN.COM-U.S., U.S. Apologizes

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