Metro articles on Aug. 1 and 2 incorrectly said that Ghana Airways is the only airline that offers direct flights between the United States and West Africa. South African Airways and Royal Air Maroc, for example, also fly directly. (Published 8/5/04)
U.S. and Ghanaian officials agreed yesterday to charter two planes to transport hundreds of passengers who have been stranded in Baltimore, New York and West Africa for a week after Ghana Airways's right to fly in and out of the United States was suspended because of questions about safety and permits.
One flight will leave tomorrow from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the other Thursday from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, said Obed Owusi-Kissi, the airline's general manager for North America. The flights will return with passengers who were marooned in Accra, Ghana's capital, when U.S. transportation officials impounded the airline's DC-10 at BWI on July 26.
"This action will help weary passengers [get] home and allow us to focus more of our efforts on resolving important safety and reliability questions that we have of the airline," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a statement. He said he got personally involved in the negotiations to help bring Ghana Airways officials to the table.
Owusi-Kissi said the state-run airline will continue to work with U.S. transportation officials to obtain the release of its plane and regain permission to fly in and out of the United States.
"At this stage, Ghana is very much concerned about the welfare of these passengers," he said. "We are doing everything possible to reduce the impact of [grounding] the flight."
About 40 passengers who were stranded at BWI when Flight 171 was canceled were put up at a Ramada Inn in Laurel while the airline negotiated with U.S. transportation officials. The airline paid for their hotel and meals and will cover the cost of the charter flights.
Airline officials said it was difficult to rebook passengers on other airlines because of the peak summer travel season, but about 20 people left Saturday for flights home via Ethiopia. Airline officials estimated the dispute stranded hundreds of people in the Washington region, at JFK and in Accra.
The BWI passengers said they were separated from their luggage for several days. When their suitcases arrived, some had been damaged or were wet because they were left on a tarmac at BWI in a rainstorm.
Transportation Department spokesman Robert Johnson said World Airways will operate the charter flights.
"They have a very good reputation," he said. "We are confident that we are in a good situation to address this immediate crisis."
Although several airlines fly between Accra and Europe, Ghana Airways flies the only direct route between West Africa and the United States. The airline has four scheduled flights a week to the United States, using the one plane impounded at BWI after U.S. inspectors spotted corrosion on it and discovered that the airline's permit expired in mid-July.
Johnson said the Transportation Department also was bothered that the airline doesn't belong -- as most airlines do -- to an industry association that lets other airlines pick up its passengers if something happens to its planes.
The stranded passengers include two dozen members of a Mitchellville church who had planned a pilgrimage to Africa for two years. Each traveler had paid $2,400.
"We want a refund," said the Rev. Emmanuel Grantson, a Ghanaian immigrant and pastor of St. Michael's Truth Lutheran Church. "I fault Ghana Airways. They want to play in the global market, but they are not playing by the same rules. They are a small airline trying to play in a big man's game."
Owusi-Kissi said the airline will give refunds to any passengers who request them. He said passengers should contact their travel agent or other person from whom they purchased their ticket.
Leslie Nesbitt, owner of Rhythmic Walls Faux Finishing Design Studio in Mitchellville, said she was looking forward to visiting Ghana with other church members. But after months of making payments on the trip, getting vaccinated and spending days at the Ramada Inn, she went back to her Mitchellville home and said she wasn't leaving.
"I have lost time, and time can't be replaced," Nesbitt said. "This was my summer vacation. We were going to spend 14 days in Ghana. It has been horrible. I still would like to visit Ghana. It is something of a life dream to do."
Grantson said his parishioners have lost more than the $295 their vaccinations cost and $50 for visas.
"These people were going to the motherland for the first time," he said. Their "emotional loss can't be replaced."