Colin Bower said he still remembers the shock and horror he felt during a phone call he received in August of 2009. A male caller informed him that his children had been taken to Egypt, Bower says, and that if he made any attempts to contact authorities, he would never see them again.
He was supposed to pick up his two boys, Noor and Ramsay, 9 and 7 at the time, from a scheduled visit in Boston with their mother, Mirvat El Nady, Bower says. A U.S. judge had granted him sole legal custody after the couple’s divorce in 2008, and El Nady, a British and Egyptian citizen, had limited visitation. Those restrictions, Bower says, along with findings in the divorce proceedings raising doubts about her truthfulness, angered El Nady and prompted the kidnapping.
Bower, a financial consultant from Boston, said he later learned that El Nady had taken the children to John F. Kennedy airport in New York, purchased one-way tickets to Cairo with cash, and allegedly used Egyptian passports with false identities to get the boys past security and onto an EgyptAir flight.
Bower has sued the airline, alleging they failed to pick up on serious red flags: the boys’ surnames did not match their mother’s and the boys’ passports had no U.S. entry visas. Barry Pollack, who is representing Bower in the case, says EgyptAir should have safeguards in place for potential abduction cases.
“Airlines have every right to require the parents to show dual parental consent forms to prove that the adult has the right to take that child overseas,” Pollack told ABC News.
EgyptAir declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit. Just last month, lawyers for the airline filed a motion asking that the suit be dismissed. Regarding parental consent forms, their motion argues that EgyptAir is only required to review passports and that “airlines simply do not have the manpower required to track down and contact non-traveling parents to discuss their children’s travel.”
The motion for dismissal also cited a recent report on international child abductions by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report, which says the annual number of cases of abductions reported has tripled since 2000, suggests that airlines “do not have the authority to verify or enforce court and custody orders in an effort to prevent international parental child abductions.”
Instead, the report states, that responsibility belongs to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Bower says that’s letting airlines off the hook.
“The GAO report clearly represents the interests of the airlines, not the safety of the passengers or their children,” Bower said. “This should absolutely terrify every parent.”
In response to an email from ABC News, the GAO said, “The report does not state that airlines have no responsibility to check identifications, nor was it intended to suggest that airlines are prohibited from requesting verified or certified copies of custody orders in order to prevent child abductions. …The report makes a general statement which was intended to reflect the distinction between the role and authority of the courts, law enforcement officials, federal agencies, and private sector entities such as the airlines.”
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