Airline's grounding strands hundreds

Ghana travelers at BWI are faced with ruined plans - and luggage

July 30, 2004|By Lester J. Davis | Lester J. Davis,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Baltimore-Washington International Airport after U.S. officials grounded Ghana's state-run airline during an investigation into alleged safety and licensing violations.

Debt-ridden Ghana Airways suspended flights into and out of the United States on Tuesday after the U.S. Department of Transportation issued the order.

Yesterday morning, stranded passengers crowded outside the front entrance of the Ramada Inn on Fort Meade Road in Laurel, with suitcases full of wet and stained clothing. The passengers, whose stay at the hotel was being paid for by the airline, said their luggage was left outside at the airport Tuesday night and became soaked from heavy rains.

Gifty Nikoi, who lives in Philadelphia, said the rain destroyed nearly $3,500 worth of presents she bought for her family in Ghana.

Nikoi said she almost fainted when she saw the condition of her luggage and the experience has left her feeling "punished."

Nikoi is among at least 200 travelers who were stranded at BWI when the airline suspended its flights. Travelers in Africa and the United States were stranded by the shutdown.

In addition to BWI, Ghana Airways also operated round-trip flights from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

At Ghana's airport in Accra, the capital, Akbar Muhammad, a tour operator who arranges tours of old slave forts and trading posts, said he had 70 elderly American clients who were stuck without a flight home, Reuters reported.

Federal investigators are looking into two incidents in which the airline ignored federal inspectors and flew a plane that had been ordered grounded until safety questions were resolved. The airline also allowed its operating license to expire in mid-July and continued to fly.

`Unprecedented event'

It is "an unprecedented event" to hear of an airliner allowing its flight permit to expire, said Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation. In a statement, the department said it expects the airline "to take all possible steps to address the needs of the affected customers."

Henry Vaneck, a spokesman for Ghana Airways, declined to discuss the shutdown. Ghana Airways issued a bulletin on its Web site saying its flights "will not operate as originally scheduled" and that it is working with U.S. officials to "resume normal operations as soon as possible."

Benjamin Nutsupse, an engineering student from Lincoln University in Missouri, said he was originally scheduled to fly out of BWI for Ghana to attend his father's funeral today. But last night, he was still stranded in Baltimore without an explanation from the airline.

"I don't know what to do. I don't have any money to drive back" to Missouri, he said. Nutsupse said his return flight to Missouri doesn't depart until Aug. 9.

Nutsupse said the group he was scheduled to travel to Ghana with wasn't notified that the flight had been canceled until about 5 p.m. Monday.

"If they are playing with our intelligence, then there needs to be someone who can put them in check," Nutsupse said.

Kwame Ansah-Brew, a minister at Crossover Christian Church in Laurel, said he couldn't understand how an airline could be so irresponsible.

"If I had known it would be this much of an inconvenience, I would have just called the whole trip off," said Ansah-Brew, who said he was traveling to Ghana to pick up his young son, who was visiting family there. "I'm going to wait until Saturday, and if there's still no word then, maybe I'll try Ethiopian Airlines," said Ansah-Brew, a native of Ghana.

Plans on hold

Robert Kwarteng, who lives in Kingstown, Va., said plans for his father's funeral have been held up for three months because he had to raise money for the plane ticket to Ghana. Kwarteng said the most frustrating part of the whole situation was not knowing what's going on.

"Nobody has been willing to tell me anything," he said. "It just seems like nobody cares."

Kwarteng said he is trying to get BWI to issue him an emergency ticket through another airline so he can make his father's funeral Aug. 7.

"This is an ordeal I can't even begin to explain," he said. "I just want to rest, because I haven't been able to sleep since Monday. This should not happen to anybody."

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