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AIDS traveler praises apparent change in Northwest Airlines policy

By BEATRICE MOTAMEDI, UPI Business Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- A man who attempted to buy a ticket on Northwest Airlines in August but was refused because he had AIDS Thursday praised an apparent decision by the airline to change its policy on passengers with the fatal disease.

'This should be a warning to all industry that if they're going to discriminate against people wih AIDS they're going to be taken to court, and we're not going to take this lightly,' said Leonard Matlovich, 44, of San Francisco.

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According to National Gay Rights Advocates, a San Francisco law firm, Northwest Airlines said Wednesday that it would no longer require victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome who want to buy tickets on the airline to present a physician's statement saying that they are 'non-infectious' and will not inconvenience other passengers.

Northwest Airlines spokesmen at company headquarters in Minneapolis failed to return repeated calls for comment on Thursday.

According to Benjamin Schatz, a spokesman for the San Francisco law firm, Northwest's new guidelines say that it 'will not deny passage to a person with AIDS' but may require AIDS sufferers who have other conditions, such as tuberculosis, to submit doctors' certificates.

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'That is acceptable, so far as we are concerned,' Schatz said. 'It's only a tiny percentage of people with AIDS (who) have tuberculosis.'

Schatz said that Northwest said its new guidelines are 'based on advice from our medical consultants, the HIV or AIDS virus is not contagious in casual contact.'

Matlovich expressed pleasure with the new policy.

'I think that's fair,' said Matlovich. 'I'm very happy with the policy.'

Northwest on Aug. 13 refused to sell Matlovich a ticket for a San Francisco-Washington flight after he told a reservation agent that he has AIDS.

A day later, Matlovich, attended by television news cameras, went to the San Francisco International Airport to buy a ticket but was again refused.

Matlovich had wanted to travel to Washington to attend a national gay rights march scheduled for Oct. 9 -- Oct. 11.

The San Francisco resident, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient who was discharged from the Air Force after 12 years of service in a widely publicized case after acknowledging that he was homosexual, said he still plans to fly to Washington -- on Eastern Airlines.

'I've already got the ticket I attempted to get,' Matlovich said.

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