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Pilot's proselytizing scares passengers

American Airlines apologizes for comments on religion

Karla Austin, left, and Jen Dorsey were passengers on the American Airlines flight.
Karla Austin, left, and Jen Dorsey were passengers on the American Airlines flight.

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Passengers on an American Airlines flight say they were frightened by a pilot's announcement expressing his Christian faith.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- An American Airlines pilot made some passengers fearful when he urged them to make wise use of their flight time by talking to Christians, passengers said Monday.

Passengers were "shocked," said Karla Austin, who had flown on Friday's Los Angeles to New York Flight 34. Some reached for their mobile phones and others used the on-flight phones, she said.

"Just given the history of what's happened on planes in this country, anything can happen at this point. So we weren't sure if something was going to happen at takeoff, if he was going to wait until JFK (John F. Kennedy) to do something," Austin said. "But there was definitely implication there that we felt that something was going to happen."

Passengers complained to the flight attendants, who relayed their concerns to the cockpit and who then reassured them they had nothing to worry about, Austin said.

Attendants also told passengers they had contacted airline officials about the matter, she said.

"We were just at the beginning of our flight. The pilot came on to greet everyone and give his comments for the morning, and he said he'd recently been on a mission trip, and he'd like all the Christians to please raise their hands," said passenger Jen Dorsey.

He said, 'If you are a Christian, raise your hand.' He said, 'If you are not, you're crazy,'" said Austin.

Air Transportation

Dorsey nodded her head in agreement that the pilot had called non-Christians "crazy."

Another passenger recounted a similar experience in an interview with WCBS-TV in New York. Amanda Nelligan told the station the pilot said those who did not raise their hands were "crazy."

Austin said no passengers raised their hands.

The pilot then asked passengers to look around at each other and use the flight wisely or "just sit back and watch the movie," Dorsey said.

About 45 minutes into the flight, the pilot apologized -- but his apology focused on the crew, not the passengers, Dorsey said.

"He came on and said, 'I want to apologize for my comments earlier. I think I really threw the flight crew off a little bit, and they are getting a lot of flack for the things I said. So I want to apologize to my flight crew,' " she said.

Wagner said the pilot offered to speak after the flight with anyone who wanted to discuss his comments.

On her way out, Austin said she told him that "he should be ashamed of himself."

"He just nodded and looked to the ground, and that was it," she said.

The airline is investigating reports about Friday's Flight 34, a company spokesman said.

American Airlines said that if the incident were true it "would be against our policy."

In a statement, the airline said, "It falls along the lines of a personal level of sharing that may not be appropriate for one of our employees to do while on the job."

Airline spokesman Tim Wagner said the pilot denies using the word "crazy." He told the airline he recently had returned from a mission trip and was encouraging people to use the four and a half hour flight to speak with passengers about their relationships with God, Wagner said. The pilot's name has not been released.

"American Airlines apologizes if anyone was made to feel uncomfortable by the comments of this pilot," Wagner said.

The airline spokesman declined to say whether the pilot has been relieved of duty while an investigation is under way. The man, a senior pilot with the airline, did not fly again over the weekend, Wagner said.

The spokesman also declined to say whether the pilot is scheduled to fly this week.

The result of the airline's investigation will not be made public because it is an internal matter, Wagner said, adding it will be "handled internally according to American Airlines procedure."

CNN's Tracy Sabo contributed to this report.

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