DALLAS — American Airlines chief executive Don Carty says he backs a pilot's decision to remove an armed Arab-American Secret Service agent from a Christmas Day flight at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"I am completely convinced that our captain acted appropriately and in the best interests of security on his airplane," Carty said in a weekend statement for American employees on the company's Web site and on the company's hotline. "Our captains deal with law enforcement professionals who carry firearms on airplanes all the time."
Carty said he believed the pilot had the agent removed solely in the interest of the flight's safety.
The pilot described the man, who was flying to Waco, Texas, to join the security detail protecting President Bush at his ranch in nearby Crawford, as acting "very hostile" and making "loud, abusive comments." That raised more suspicion about the safety of allowing him aboard, the pilot 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. The agent, through his lawyers, is demanding an apology from American Airlines and civil rights training for its flight crews.
The Secret Service has not commented on the incident beyond saying it is conducting an inquiry.
Airline records show that the 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.
"In the judgment of an experienced pilot backed by SOC and law enforcement in Baltimore, this agent was not behaving appropriately," Carty said. "And our captain simply was not going to let an angry man with a gun on his airplane and I back that completely."
Carty said the airline doesn't condone intolerance and that he believes the agent's removal has been blown out of proportion.
"He, of all people, should understand the security concerns that motivated our Captain, who, under federal law has responsibility for the flight and for the lives of our customers on board," Carty said.
Bush told reporters after the incident that he would be "madder than heck" if a government inquiry into the incident found one of his Secret Service protectors was discriminated against.
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.