Friday, July 16, 2004

forget "friendly"--just make them safe!

Read this.  Don't wait until after you've read the rest of my spiel--do it now.  After you're done, take a deep breath, look over at the desk where you've printed up the itinerary for your family's end-of-the-summer vacation, and ask yourself a question:  what if?
Frightening stuff, eh?  And here's the bottom line:  IF that band of Syrians were terrorists, then they succeeded in their mission.  If you don't think I'm right, ask Annie Jacobsen.  I think her writing leaves it pretty clear that she was terrorized during that flight.  Granted, the flight landed free of major incident, and MAYBE all the "terror" was dreamed up by an overactive imagination that is a product of the times we live in.  And no doubt, IF this was a "mission" that the band was assigned to do, then the higher-ups in that organization would look on its lack of completion as a failure.  But as terror is largely a psychological weapon, I think the fact that at least more than a few passengers were caused great "discomfort" during that flight chalks a small victory up for the bad guys--and leaves little doubt that air transportation is still vulnerable.
Ms. Jacobsen, early in her article, writes the following observation:  "What I experienced during that  flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats."  It's an interesting observation--but one that is moot.   With the strength of the civil liberties lobby being what it is, it is unrealistic to think that the government will ever be able to pass legislation that will seriously curtail the threat posed by individuals that might be acting within U.S. borders.  Likewise, the government should not be blamed for the execution of terrorist plots within the country.  When the only weapon that the government can use without "infringing" on Constitutional rights is a color-coded warning system, the citizens of this country should expect failure every time. 
But to me, the most interesting part of the Jacobsen story is this:  despite the ongoing threat-status to air travel, and the (supposed) presence of Air Marshals on board, and the awareness of the passengers, and the fact that all the suspicious activities were supposedly briefed to the pilots--despite all that, the flight still landed in Los Angeles.  As if nothing had gone on at all, the plane lands in one of the biggest "targets" in the country, if you believe all the reports.  And if the "band" HAD been putting together a bomb, none of the passengers--even the ones who were aware of what was going on--would have survived.  Maybe even a "smoking plane" falling out of the sky would've killed some innocent folks on the streets of the city.  A lot of good "vigilant citizens" would've done then! 
To me, this article highlights the importance of airlines placing restrictions on the activities of the passengers.  Listen, you--as an air traveller--should expect some inconveniences when it comes to flying.  The aviation industry's assets have been proven to be a highly successful weapon for the terrorists, and it is only natural for involved parties to be extra-cautious to ensure that planes and people don't fall into the wrong hands again.  We already accept some inconveniences--look at the security screenings we go through now.  The new airline rule that deals with the congregation of passengers should be seen as an in-flight measure that furthers the likelihood of incident-free travel.  The rule should be briefed before every flight, as well as the fact that a violation of this rule will result in the immediate landing of the plane and the arrest of the passengers in violation of the rule.  (The immediate landing would be in order to throw a wrench into the timing of whatever plan may be afoot)  Of course, there's a warning issued to the offending parties before such a drastic action.  A nice but firm warning--you're not following our rules, either do so or we'll be forced to land.   There'd be some griping to be sure, but what law-abiding citizen wouldn't realize the gravity of the situation and then change their behavior appropriately?  And even if the offending party didn't get the seriousness of the airline's policy, and their actions forced a landing short of the destination--what's the big deal?  Oh, it would be a nightmare to deal with "all" the landings that would turn out to be for no good reason, not to mention the delays that such landings would build into the air travel schedule.  Gosh, can you imagine? . .
But now for reality:  imagine how you'll feel when you hear about another hijacking of innocent  airline passengers.  
We've taken steps to protect the cockpit, so that the threat of a terrorist flying the plane to a target is minimized.  We've taken steps to protect passengers from personal weaponry, so that the threat of a hostage situation is minimized.   Now we need to protect the plane itself -- and this is step one in the process.
The Federal government has done all it can do.  And think what you want, the reality of the situation is that once you're in a plane the influence you and your fellow passengers have on the outcome of the flight is minimal--even if you have an Air Marshal on board and everybody around you is suspicious of a "hostile" situation.
Let the airlines themselves have a link in the chain of aviation safety.
Inconveniece vs protection.  Where do you think the balance swings?


Blogger Guy said...

Great post John. I picked up on this the other day and as you say, it is truly chilling. BTW, I along with your brother, blog as members of the RMA. Welcome to the bologosphere.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Serious? Why would you think there's any need to be serious? That's part of the beauty of the 'sphere--a little levity is a welcome break from those of us who take ourselves WAY too seriously.

11:42 AM  
Blogger CC said...

John -- great blog!

12:22 PM  

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