WASHINGTON — An American Airlines pilot was so worried that an armed Arab-American Secret Service agent boarding his flight was an impostor that he sought mug shots of terrorists while trying to check the agent's identity, airline records say.
The airline captain doubted the authenticity of the agent's badge and photo identification and kept him off the Christmas Day flight for 1 1/4 hours before ultimately taking off late without him, according to reports filed by the pilot and a manager of the airline's operations center.
The pilot described the man, a member of President Bush's security detail, as acting "very hostile" and making "loud, abusive comments." That raised more suspicion about the safety of allowing him aboard, he said.
Lawyers representing the Secret Service agent disputed the pilot's account, saying the agent was cooperative, calm and professional throughout the encounter and was the victim of racial bias.
"It was the pilot who was rude, unprofessional and demeaning," attorney Christy Lopez said at a news conference Thursday.
An American Airlines operations manager said the pilot requested photos of terrorist suspects. The manager said he advised the pilot instead to seek police help in checking the agent's credentials.
The agent, through his lawyers, is demanding an apology from American Airlines and an agreement to train flight crews better about civil rights. The pilot has complained to the Secret Service about the agent's behavior.
Bush told reporters last week he would be "madder than heck" if a government inquiry into the incident found one of his Secret Service protectors was discriminated against.
American Airlines released the pilot's incident report Thursday along with a statement that "the company vigorously resents any suggestion of racial discrimination."
"American will not allow any armed individual onboard, regardless of who he or she is, if that person is angry or acting in a manner that the crew believes could jeopardize the safety of the flight," the statement said.
The agent's attorneys said he hasn't sought compensation from American Airlines but hasn't ruled out a lawsuit, either. If he did receive any money, he would give it to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, they said.
The agent has not identified himself for security reasons, his lawyers said. They released a statement on his behalf that said: "It has never been my desire to make this incident personal. This case is only about the facts."
American Airlines didn't name Flight 363's captain, either, but posted a copy of his report about the incident on its Web site.
The pilot wrote that his suspicions about the agent were justified by the Sept. 11 hijackings and by more recent reports of a man who carried a bomb in his shoe aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. That passenger was subdued and then arrested after the flight was diverted to Boston.
WEB SITE: www.amrcorp.com