When it comes to airline security, in this day and age, you can never be too stupid.
In the wake of news that authorities in the United Kingdom had disrupted a terrorist plot August 10 to blow up airliners, numerous security incidents — and complete non-incidents — have been reported in the weeks since, seven just on Friday. In most cases, officials seem to have overreacted to nonexistent threats.
The exception probably proves the rule: A college student returning from Argentina mistakenly left a stick of dynamite in his luggage when he returned to the U.S. Customs officials discovered the dynamite after a bomb-sniffing dog picked out the luggage during customs inspection. Howard McFarland Fish, 21, a psychology student at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., reportedly told Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that he worked in mining and frequently handled explosives as part of his job.
Among airplane incidents to which officials overreacted Friday were: On one flight, a missing lavatory panel, later located, resulting in every passenger being interrogated; on another, a passenger who got into an altercation with a flight attendant was removed and the flight delayed for three hours, and in Chicago O’Hare, a boy “said something inappropriate” causing a flight to be delayed.
Security expert Bruce Schneier reports on several other security non-incidents reported over the last two weeks.
“The implausible plots and false alarms actually hurt us in two ways,” Schneier wrote. “Not only do they increase the level of fear, but they also waste time and resources that could be better spent fighting the real threats and increasing actual security.”
The non-incident which really illustrates the absurdity of it all is one man’s ordeal after his iPod fell into the lavatory toilet without him realizing it, on a flight to Ottawa, Ontario, on August 15. Unlike the other incidents, this person decided to tell his story on the Internet after press accounts misrepresented what he says actually happened.
“Stupid” notes that shortly after he went to the lavatory, he heard the flight attendants say they had locked it due to something stopping up the toilet. He said he initially thought it was the seat cover, but after discovering his iPod was missing, he went to go talk to them.
“So, I had an iPod before I went to the bathroom, and now I don’t. I think I know what’s in the toilet.”
We had a quick conversation. I told them, “You don’t have to call the TSA or anything, it’s just my iPod.” They said, “Oh, but we already did.”
So now I’m starting to realize that this is turning into a big problem. They offer their condolences, tell me that it’s unfortunate, and I take a seat. Okay. So far, not so bad. I return to my seat and spend the rest of the flight trying to act normal.
That is, right up until the pilot comes over the intercom.
“Folks, this is the captain. I don’t want to alarm you, but we’ve found a suspicious device in the front lavatory. Now, we think it’s probably nothing, but in this day and age — you can never be too careful. We’ll be landing at Ottawa, where we will await further instructions.” — Stupid
Read the rest of his account, where he tells of how he was interrogated by the Ottawa Police Service and customs officials for several hours, the entirely bizarre questions they asked him (“OK, so — if you and Cara were drunk together, and she turned to you and said, ‘Tim, let’s go””) and the second round of bizarre questioning after the bomb squad fished his iPod out of the toilet and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Also read another passenger’s account of the experience: “Even if we forget about the stress and discomfort caused to passengers,” writes Amy Knight, “inflexible overreactions to airplane ‘incidents’ are a drain of money and resources, which might better be spent on figuring out ways to deal more effectively and consistently with real threats to our security.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. An iPod falls into the toilet, and this is a national security incident? Give me a break.