DETROIT (Reuters) – Northwest Airlines apologized on Wednesday to 40 American Muslims who were barred from a recent flight to Detroit, but denied it discriminated against the group, which was returning from a Hajj pilgrimage.

Northwest said the pilgrims failed to check in one hour before their transatlantic flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Detroit was scheduled to depart, as is required. The passengers arrived in Frankfurt via a charter flight from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and mistakenly believed they were cleared to board the Northwest flight, but were not.

“The passengers were accommodated on the next available flights to Detroit,” Northwest said. “We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused the passengers.”

A Northwest spokesman denied the airline discriminated against the pilgrims, but said compensation would be discussed. He said some of the Muslims got on the flight, while others could not board because they lacked required luggage receipts.

The January 7 incident was taken up by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which welcomed the airline’s apology, but said the group wanted clarification and compensation.

“Northwest has not taken full responsibility,” said Dawud Walid, Michigan director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who said he will meet this week with airline representatives.

Walid said many in the group were bypassed in line by other passengers who were allowed to board the flight.

He said as the stranded passengers left the gate, one reported that an airline worker commented: “‘My God, not only are these people Muslims, but they’re Americans too.'”

Since the 2001 terror attacks, there have been frequent allegations of discrimination against Muslims, Arabs or people who appear to be Arabs by U.S. airline workers, customs agents, or security agents.


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