Oakland International Airport officials said Tuesday that security concerns about a charter plane ferrying military personnel from Iraq led them to direct the aircraft to a remote corner of the airfield, causing the troops to spend a two-hour layover on the tarmac.
The group of more than 200 troops, which reportedly included both U.S. Marines and Army soldiers, stopped in Oakland Sept. 27 during a trip from Iraq to Hawaii so the North American Airlines charter could be refueled, cleaned and restocked with food.
Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said she did not know which
units or which services were represented on the plane.
Airport authorities said they learned from Hilltop Aviation, which provides services to airlines on the ground, that the passengers had not been screened by the Transportation Security Administration at a previous stop in New York.
Moreover, the authorities learned that there were weapons on the plane.
"Together with our security partners, the airport made a decision to park this aircraft at a remote location on the tarmac," Deborah Alle-Flint, assistant director of aviation for the airport, said in a prepared statement.
Airport authorities did not know some passengers wanted to go to
the main terminal to visit relatives because Hilltop did not say so, Barnes said.
Had the airport authorities known, the troops could have been transferred to a terminal area where they would have remained separate from civilian passengers who had been screened.
While a handful of troops were permitted into the terminal, most were served food, provided restrooms and permitted to smoke outdoors, near their charter plane, although smoking is normally prohibited in that area of the airfield, Barnes said.
Barnes said the commanding officer on the plane did not complain about the arrangement.
The airport's statement pledged that it, tenant companies and law enforcement officials "will continue to work together to refine our procedures to prevent this type of situation from occurring again in the future."
"All of us here at (the airport) proudly serve and support our nation's military service men and women and their families," the airport statement said.
"They are always treated with the highest level of respect and we go out of our way to ensure that their travel experience through (Oakland) is in line with our very high customer service standards."
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said he had directed the city-managed airport to "look into these matters and work closely with airport personnel to ensure that this type of situation never happens again."
"As a former U.S. Marine, I understand that our troops deserve only the utmost respect for their service to our country," Dellums said in a prepared release.
"I want to be very clear, the City of Oakland does not condone this type of treatment of our troops."