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Student feels persecuted on flight

I had flown 16 times in the past month. The Pan Am Shuttle had symbolically become the

liaison between the relaxation experienced with my family in Washington and the intensity of MIT in Boston.

The quick link between the cities via New York had also eased the transition from the interdependence of a close-knit family to the self-dependence of college life. In essence, the two, inexpensive, 40-minute rides on the Pan Am Shuttle were a pleasant interlude between my two lives, and had permitted the development of friendships with frequently seen flight attendants and airport personnel.

Yet today, this image which time and a tad of romantic outlook had formed of the Pan Am Shuttle has been obliterated and replaced by an awful, first-hand look at the distrust and violation of human rights which Americans are beginning to impose upon each other as the war with Iraq continues.

Boston was my planned destination early on the Saturday morning of Jan. 27 as I entered the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport.

After having spent an unplanned overnight stay in New York because of a flight cancellation, I was relieved to finally obtain my boarding pass from the Pan Am Shuttle representative and fasten my seatbelt on Flight 245.

The ritual-like announcements which precede take-off on every shuttle flight resounded with a deadened echo as I dosed on and off. As the engines began to roar I heard a final announcement, "If Washington is not your destination please disembark at this time."

Washington! I immediately jumped up and asked to be let off. With only slight hesitation, the plane's main door was opened, and I exited. If I had known of the consequences which would result from having simply followed the directions to "disembark at this time," I would never have unbuckled my belt.

Within a matter of minutes several security guards approached me and began to question my actions. I clearly explained the situation, yet I ascertained disbelief in their eyes.

Several other chief administrators, including the security chief and the management director asked me for identification and verification of my story. Yet, time and time again, their paranoia of my having planted a bomb on Flight 245 seemed to surmount to an unjustifiably irrational level.

At one point I was even accused of having tried to switch flights in order to gain an additional 6000 miles of frequent flier mileage which the Pan Am Shuttle was offering at the time!

As the minutes passed I continued to give details to corroborate my actions, but nothing I said seemed to sway the prejudged, irrationally based guilty verdict I was to receive.

Finally, an overwhelming sense of relief came upon me as I saw one of the flight attendants I had spoken with the evening before while stranded in New York. She told me, "Don't worry, you'll get on the 9:30 flight to Boston. I'll verify the situation for you."

I began to relax amid assurances that all would turn for the better, yet within minutes I entered a complete state of disbelief as her word was discounted and I was presumed a terrorist.

I was escorted out of the airport by police guards and told that I was a serious security risk to Pan Am and that my return to the Marine Air Terminal would result in my arrest by the Port Authority.

I had done nothing wrong. I had done nothing that warranted the extreme level of disrespect that Pan Am's personnel had for my rights as an American citizen.

From my college dorm window I look onto Boston. I did make it back to Boston, but not without having my outlook on life in the United States and my view of trust and openmindedness fundamentally changed.

I understand Pan Am's concern for the safety of its passengers, and for this it must be commended. Yet there is a limit to the extent and manner in which safety is enforced, and in no case should the rights of American citizens be violated as mine have been by Pan Am.

Nicholas P. De Luca '94->