Cat Stevens wasn’t the only pop star onboard United Airlines Flight 919. The veteran Scottish prog-rock band Marillion was also on the Heathrow-to-Dulles flight September 21, en route to Mexico City, where the band would begin its North American tour. (Marillion plays Irving Plaza October 6.) But after the jet made an unscheduled landing to remove Yusuf Islam, the members of Marillion missed their connection—and almost their gig.
It seemed like an ordinary passage, says lead singer Steve Hogarth, until the purser announced abruptly that the airliner was, in fact, stopping at Bangor, Maine. Hogarth looked out the window and saw an unsettling array of gray military planes on the tarmac. (The Maine Air National Guard is based at Bangor International Airport.) As the passengers went through immigration, he says, “the guy in front of me was pulled off because he had a Pakistani passport.” Once their fingerprints were electronically scanned, the band members collected their bags, which had been opened and searched. “I asked the security guard, ‘What’s going on here?’ He said, ‘Cat Stevens and his daughter were taken off the plane.’ ” Hogarth called his manager in London, who alerted the press. Which is why Hogarth, lead singer for a band who never had a top-40 hit in the U.S., was quoted all over the world saying, “I was stunned. He is a pacifist and a great songwriter.”
“I’m pretty sure I broke this story,” he says. Marillion and the other passengers got back in the plane and headed for Dulles, where the band spent the night in the terminal. The indignities didn’t end there: The rockers now had to go out of their way to connect in Chicago, and when they were finally in the air, the flight attendant refused to give Hogarth two Heinekens at once, to help him relax. A confrontation ensued, and the head steward threatened to land the plane and have him removed.
“After 9/11, these airline stewards are like little Hitlers,” he says. “I could’ve said, Yeah, you do that, let’s land the plane, let’s disturb all these people rather than give me a beer. What the hell is going on with your country, man?”
But Hogarth thought better of it. “I could’ve ended up in the cell next to Cat Stevens, man.”