Come Fly the Unfriendly Skies

By | December 27, 2009

On Friday, a passenger on a Northwest flight set off a small explosive device shortly before landing in Detroit. The man, Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, was subdued. He had connected in Amsterdam to the flight from a KLM flight inbound from Lagos, Nigeria. He had been rescreened in Amsterdam, as is standard procedure there. The device failed to fully detonate, and has been described as a mixture of liquid and powder, and were described as more incendiary than explosive. There are reports they were molded to his body and sewn into his underpants.

Here is Delta’s official statement on the subject. And here is what the TSA had to say.  The TSA’s statement is somewhat more revealing of the results of this incident. “Passengers may notice additional screening measures put into place to ensure the safety of the traveling public on domestic and international flights.

From all reports, this man acted alone. He was on a suspect list, but no one considered him dangerous enough to stop from flying…except maybe his father, who warned US Authorities weeks ago. And what is the result?

British Airways has limited passengers to a single carry-on bag to the US only. Some airlines are recommending three hours for domestic, four hours for international flights. The TSA is not being clear about things, apparently to be unpredictable.

Chris Elliott has revealed some details he’s gotten from airline insiders for new rules on inbound flights to the United States, not domestic service.

  • No information about a flight path or an aircraft’s position over cities or landmarks shall be given. Wireless internet and flight path information must remain off, and the captain cannot make any announcements about flight positioning.
  • One hour before landing, passengers must stow carry-ons and electronic devices and remain seated for the rest of the flight. Passengers may not access their carry-on luggage or have anything in their lap during that period. That includes pillows and blankets.
  • All onboard IFEs shall be disabled for this period.
  • No Electronic Use at ALL on Some Flights

Now, these seem ridiculous. Plane travel is often uncomfortable enough…and they want to turn off even the airline provided IFE, hide the pillows and blankets, and make us sit there quietly? What is the security point?

Joe Sharkey atrributes this to the TSA’s lack of a permanent head for almost a year, among other things. We have to agree with him on one of his points. This is a typical knee-jerk, security theater reaction. The TSA’s blog has done nothing to elaborate, due to the ongoing investigation.

But, even though the preliminary reports are that this is limited to international flights inbound to the United States, Fox News reports that passengers today on a flight from New York to Tampa, and passengers on other domestic flights are being told the same.  All of these things sound nuts. To change procedures in light of new information seems to make sense, but to keep everyone doing nothing…and this ban does include books, because it requires all carry-on items be stowed, for the last hour of the flight is ridiculous.

Terrorists are not stupid. If we prevent people from accessing their possessions on landing, they’ll just try something on takeoff, or in the middle of the ocean. No one at the TSA is interested in addressing the concerns of the public. They are keeping their policies secret, but the airlines are slowly disseminating them anyway.

Better intelligence has been proven time and time again as the best way to prevent terrorism. We’re not security experts, but nothing the TSA seems to announce seems to be a logical response. And they certainly aren’t spending any time or effort convincing us it is.

Ultimately, treating all passengers like criminals doesn’t enhance security.  How long is it before we must fly in orange jumpsuits after our mandatory body cavity search? Just remember…talking to your neighbor on the plane may become forbidden, because you could coordinate an attack.

It will drive a bunch of people to drive and to use Amtrak. People will avoid travelling by plane entirely. If an insane man and a bunch of terrorists can destroy the airline industry, then haven’t they essentially won? They’ve disrupted our lives and damaged our way of life. The skies are not any more or less safe. But they are certainly much less friendly.