U.S., Ghana charter flights

Planes at BWI, JFK to fly stranded travelers home

Hundreds marooned at airports

Safety, reliability issues grounded African airline

August 03, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of weary passengers stranded in Baltimore, New York and West Africa since last week's grounding of Ghana's state-run airline have been given a ticket home.

U.S. officials, who suspended the troubled airline on July 26 for alleged safety and licensing violations, reached an agreement with Ghanaian officials to charter two planes to transport some of the passengers.

After a flight departs today from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, another will leave Thursday from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Both flights are reserved for passengers with return tickets to West Africa. Returning flights will carry passengers stranded in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, back to the United States.

"I won't be sure until I'm sitting on the plane," said Baboucarr Loum, who hopes to return to Ghana today after a sour ending to his monthlong vacation with family in Madison, Wis.

A spokesman for the federal Department of Transportation said yesterday that a team of officials, including Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, spent "much of last week" pressuring the airline to take responsibility for its passengers, and agree to charter the two flights.

Mineta said in a statement that he was eager to resolve "important safety and reliability questions that we have of the airline."

Officials have indefinitely suspended the four round-trip weekly flights operated by Ghana Airways to and from the United States while they conduct an investigation into the airline's failure to renew its operating license, which expired last month. The airline is also being investigated for two incidents in which it flew a plane that the Federal Aviation Administration ordered grounded until safety questions were answered.

Henry Van Eck, a spokesman for Ghana Airways in North America, said officials and lawyers in Ghana are working to resume the U.S. flights.

"Our hope is that we can reach a formal agreement soon so we can transport the rest of the people who are in distress," Van Eck said.

For these passengers, many of them traveling on vacation, the airline is offering a full refund or a reservation on a future Ghana Airways flight. An offer to reroute passengers has been made more difficult by the peak travel season.

"We are not going to leave them high and dry," Van Eck said.

Although Ghana Airways has put up more than 50 marooned passengers at the Ramada Inn on Fort Meade Road in Laurel since the cancellation of their flight, many expressed frustration last night with the airline.

"I'm not sure what to think because they've lied to us," Loum complained, pointing to the repeated delays in scheduling a flight.

Loum and Baci Ba, another Ghanaian passenger staying at the Ramada, said they were still upset that their luggage was ruined by heavy rains last week. They accuse the airline of leaving the baggage on the tarmac when the DC-10 was grounded.

When they complained, they said, an airline representative told them to file a baggage claim.

Others are claiming expenses beyond the price of their tickets.

The Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Grantson of St. Michael's Truth Lutheran Church in Mitchellville spent the past two years planning a spiritual mission to Ghana, his homeland, with 23 of his parishioners. In preparation, Grantson said, each member of his group spent $50 on a visa and more than $290 on vaccinations and malaria tablets.

"I'd like to find out from Ghana Airways how we're going to recuperate all the losses we've encountered," Grantson said.

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