go! chief receives offensive T-shirt
Rival airline workers pen profanities and an anti-Semitic slur
The anti-go! campaign has turned ugly.
Mesa Air Group Chief Executive Jonathan Ornstein -- whose new interisland airline go! sparked a fare war, triggered lawsuits and inspired several anti-go! Web sites -- received a T-shirt on Monday containing an anti-Semitic slur, profane remarks and hate messages from members of a Hawaii airline employees' committee that calls itself H.E.R.O, or Hawaii's airline Employees Repelling Ornstein.
The T-shirt, sent by FedEx from an Island Air employee's account, was marked up with about 20 slurs, including an anti-Semitic reference, profanity and comments such as "Bite my JO!," "O.J. we hate you!" "Hey JO, I got your Aloha right here" and "JO, drown in your own kool-aid!"
Some of the messages were unsigned and some had first names only.
The T-shirt has "go! is not a Hawaiian airline" printed on the front and "Mesa has no aloha" printed on the back, and previously has been part of H.E.R.O.'s anti-go! campaign, but without the slurs.
Profane remarks and hate messages were written on a T-shirt sent to Mesa Air Group Chief Executive Jonathan Ornstein, who runs go! airlines.
Ornstein, who is Jewish, said he was appalled that the group would stoop so low, and noted that he was committed more than ever to keeping airfares low in Hawaii. Last Wednesday, more than 150 supporters of H.E.R.O. rallied at the state Capitol after sending a letter to state Attorney General Mark Bennett accusing Mesa of illegally keeping airfares low to drive Aloha Airlines out of business.
"'J.O. the Jew Borat,' that's the aloha spirit, right?" Ornstein said. "To me, that's what these people are about with threats of anti-Semitism. It's really shameful.
"We're all deeply offended by it, and if this is the level that people have gone to, it's a bad strategy."
H.E.R.O. spokesman Randall Cummings, an Aloha Airlines interisland pilot, said the T-shirt wasn't officially endorsed by H.E.R.O., and was an on-the-spot action undertaken by some of the group's members at the rally.
"Some guys there were expressing their feelings, and emotions are running high when you try to deprive a person of their livelihood," Cummings said. "You can't expect them to have a rational reaction to that. To Mr. Ornstein, we just may be resources or numbers on a page, but these are people who are going to be deprived of their livelihood by his illegal actions, so it's natural they would feel that way."
Cummings said he wasn't aware of the anti-Semitic remark and didn't read the whole shirt before it was sent out. Cummings signed the T-shirt but said he wrote "nothing vulgar."
"I'm Jewish, and if I had seen that, I would have probably confiscated the shirt," Cummings said. "I really think that's inappropriate and that merits an apology."
Aloha Airlines pilot Mike Uslan, who flies trans-Pacific routes, also is Jewish and signed the T-shirt. He said he wasn't sure what the signer meant by the message but called it "a poor sense of humor."
Uslan then added, "I don't know if Ornstein is going to play the race card, but he's not going to get very far with that."
After Cummings and Uslan were contacted about the shirt, H.E.R.O. put out a news release in which it said the group does not condone vulgarity or other hostile comments. H.E.R.O. also apologized in the news release to Ornstein for the offensive statements on the shirt, but did not say what was written.
H.E.R.O.'s Web site, www.dontflygo.com, says it is dedicated to telling "the truth" about Mesa.
"At the Web site, we're trying to keep things factual and above the waist," Cummings said. "But there are people who have very strong emotions about what Mr. Ornstein is trying to do in Hawaii ... and his attempt to put us out of work. They're expressing their emotions, and so there's nothing I can do to stop them. There's nothing H.E.R.O. can do to stop them."
Island Air CEO Rob Mauracher said his company doesn't condone what was written on the T-shirt and will investigate why Island Air's name was used on the billing statement.
"There's no association between H.E.R.O. and Island Air," he said. "It's an independent organization of employees for Island Air, Hawaiian and Aloha, but there's no affiliation between us and them. We have no knowledge of it and don't endorse it."
Ornstein has been caught in a maelstrom of controversy since announcing in September 2005 that he was starting a new interisland airline in Hawaii. Claiming that incumbent carriers Hawaiian Airlines and Aloha Airlines had a duopoly and had been gouging customers, Mesa began service with go! on June 9 by offering special $19 one-way fares. Ornstein has maintained go!'s lowest prices at a range of $19 to $39.
But Hawaiian and Aloha, both whom have been forced to match the fares, have each sued Mesa for injunctive relief and damages, alleging the Phoenix-based carrier used proprietary information to enter the Hawaii market that was obtained when Mesa was a potential investor in both local airlines during their recent bankruptcies. Mesa has countersued Hawaiian -- the first of the two incumbent carriers to sue Mesa -- for restraint of trade.
Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris denied Hawaiian's request for a preliminary injunction to prohibit go! from selling tickets for one year, saying Hawaiian had not shown that Mesa had caused any irreparable harm to Hawaiian. But the judge also criticized Mesa's conduct and said Mesa likely would be found at trial to have violated a confidentiality agreement it agreed to during Hawaiian's bankruptcy.