That has to be the question on the mind of anyone who has flown recently or anyone who is a frequent flyer; it’s more than the every few month stories of terrorists finding new ways to invade planes and attempt to bring them down, it’s more than knowing people are willing to put explosives in their shoes, their underwear, even inside their body to achieve their goal, their hatred of America is so great. It seems the problem is here at home too, more than just an impatience with being forced to remove our shoes, limited in the amounts of liquids we can carry on a plane in the form of hygiene products, medication, baby formula, uncomfortable, questionably safe body scans, intrusive pat downs indiscriminately performed on the elderly, children. It’s after all the long lines, all the precautions, all the inconvenience, we still aren’t safe; no, not from the next thing a foreign terrorist can dream up, not from something a homegrown terrorist knows about being a habitual flyer in their home country, something they learned about the industry from working in it, but rather our own oversight, our own lack of imagination and people responsible for flyer safety who don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of their job. Every week we as news watchers, flyers or visitors to an airport for any reason are greeted with another case of lapses in security, incompetence of those in charge of providing security and safety to holes in security that just shouldn’t be there more than a decade after 9-11.
Outside the drunken pilots, sleepy pilots, mentally unstable pilots, equally impaired or dysfunctional air traffic control personnel, there’s The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the body in charge of airport security that is routinely also in the news not just announcing the latest annoyance to passengers in the name of keeping people safe, but in the form of news reports uncovering unlocked doors a criminal managed to get through, security leaving their posts unguarded inside the airport, 60 Minutes did an investigation where they managed to slip guns, knives and bomb parts right by both x-ray screening and actual human screening. Parts if not all of their security manual outlining procedures and so forth made it onto the internet; in the last two years alone a criminal managed to make it past checkpoints and onto a plane with no ticket, security and airport personnel have been fired for sleeping or stealing on the job. Most recently 43 workers were suspended or fired for improperly screening people or not conducting secondary screenings at all; at one airport during a two month inspection 400 people were not screened whatsoever. Now, a transportation expert was quick to point out to the morning news the small percentage that represents compared to the number of people moving through the airport during that time, going on to say as well that, regardless of their actions, the TSA either takes a ribbing for keeping their mishaps internal and doing nothing or takes a bruising from the public when they find out about the breech. However he likewise got it right that in the era of the underwear bomber the only place you are likely to find that is secondary screening; you could easily one go very scary step beyond that reminding everyone who works in the industry that it only takes one person with an explosive in their shoes, their undergarments, surgically implanted or missed in a carry on to bring down a plane, to kill people.
Addressing this idea the TSA policed itself, if you hire the right people for the job in the first place, if you hire pilots who understand they are there to provide a public service and are not to behave like someone with a newly minted pilot’s license taking friends 2 states over for an Anime convention, if you hire air traffic controllers who comprehend that they aren’t playing a video game, that the computer images on the screen represent real planes packed with people depending on you to be alert and focused, if you hire security who understand this is not a night watchman gig in a town where everything closes by 10:00 pm and in a place no one ever goes, instead a very important job where lives depend on you doing your job right and well, then you don’t have to police yourself, because you don’t have half the problems to begin with. Similarly if you hire people properly trained or engage the proper training from word one day one, you don’t have these problems either. At the same time when people on these kinds of jobs flub up, show clear signs of incompetence, they don’t get retrained they get fired and told to find a new line of work. You promote and/or hire people to the position of supervisor who show leadership, who show they can properly use their authority to get done what needs to be done. You hire someone who instinctively knows the need to be nearly omnipresent, out there every day monitoring what people are doing what they are supposed to, not someone who likes the job for the office space or who gets drunk on their own power, not for this job.
Besides the administrative, competence problems, utter nonsense to be found inside many airports across the country, a major gap we have left wide open is the outside of our airports poorly protected, meagerly guarded, far too easily accessible to exactly the wrong people. How did we find this out; fortunately not through another horrendous act of terrorism but plain old criminality as a man in one city fleeing police barreled his pickup truck through the local airport fence and on to the tarmac causing worry about what was happening. Even more egregious a suspended pilot suspected of killing his girlfriend then attempted to steal a plane from his workplace; luckily he hit the sides of a few buildings in doing so and never got it off the ground, however likely causing thousands or more dollars in damage to said plane, potentally the surrounding buildings he hit. Not to mention the delay in normal opperations while police investigate along with striking fear into the local public. Despite a revoked security card he was able to foil the minimal precautions by parking, idling his motor cycle outside a single fence, throwing a rug over razor wire, scaling the fence to get to the plane he wanted to steal, all done while a lone police car patrolled the parameter. Worse is what this last incident reveals about the safety of planes parked on the ground. Turns out there are no security codes or locks on the planes themselves; if you have the knowledge, you can simply get in and start one up, presumably take off before anyone could stop you. As one news anchor said 11 years after 9-11, there’s no excuse… for lapses, gaps like this. Just because during the 9-11 attack the people responsible had to actually hijack the plane to achieve their goal doesn’t mean they won’t try something different next time; we’ve already seen their ingenuity, the lengths they will go to, to try and bring explosives onto a plane, we’ve already seen their dedication. Maybe it is time we employ some of our own.
If planes are not going to be stored, housed between uses in a hanger with a lock with some sort of security force, then fortified fencing and continuous, multiple patrols should be used for planes left in the open. Concrete barricades are used on highways for protection costing many a life when during accidents cars plow into them, so why are there not concrete walls or barricades used around permanent parking for planes? Had they been used the pickup truck would have been stopped before ever reaching the tarmac and had it been an act of terrorism, a threat averted. Further there is no reason for planes not to have keys, locks, security codes, something that prevents just anyone with piloting knowledge from simply starting one up and taking off. Additionally being suspended, having you security card cancelled, as was the case with the pilot who tried to take the plane, should also mean banning you from the premises; had that been the case along with a proper number of guards and police patrols, he would have been caught, arrested for trespassing and probably lost his job in the process independent of the suspicions about his girlfriend. Next had these basic procedures been in place he might have forgotten his wild idea to try and use a plane to escape justice in the first place. Why is it such an important factor, because in the age of the home grown terrorist, it would be all too easy for a former pilot with any US airline sympathetic to any terrorist agenda to steal a plane, plant explosives or do other kinds of harm to both people and property? And unfortunately in the era of global media, it’s a good bet American news information is reaching their ears too telling them exactly where our current weaknesses are, making us that much more vulnerable.
Speaking of pilots and pilot licensing, there is still one added question we are now forced to ask ourselves when we choose to fly the friendly skies, who is our pilot? The public and state officials alike were shocked by news reports revealing that American citizens on the no fly list for suspected links to terrorism are not automatically banned from flight schools across the country. One flight school was even both run by and training illegal aliens, all done without anyone ever going through the required TSA security check, without them being in any database to be able to track them should something go wrong. Bringing the absolute failure to epic proportions, homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano didn’t know if the TSA was aware of the lack of screening. Horrifyingly this particular security breech is not new; it goes all the way back to 9-11 when most of the hijackers involved were discovered to have had some degree of US flight training. Adding insult to injury is Napolitano’s claim the reason her office does not vet people on the no fly against American citizens is because the law is unclear. Laws may indeed be unclear yet common sense is not; of course you check people attending flight school, attempting to get a pilot’s license against the no fly list, no matter where they are from, especially when the licensing they are trying to obtain is professional or commercial, the certification to fly for an airline or to fly passengers privately as part of a resort or other business. To say nothing of double checking that the people attending flight school, going so far as to get a pilot’s license are in the country legally. Because without that you are unaware of their country of origin, you are unaware that they come from a potential hotbed for terrorism, might be coming here to learn to fly in order to carry out some revenge on the West type plot, funny most Americans reasonably assumed we were already doing that, that our leaders and officials knew they needed this information.
Sewing needles discovered in sandwiches on flights from Amsterdam was a recent frightening headline exposing one more thing overlooked, food safety of onboard meals. While this was not a US originating flight, it was headed here and had US citizens aboard. Compounding the issue and the seriousness is the divulged fact that food provided on planes is not screened, tone implying at all, while the spokesperson noted marked differences in food screening vs. passenger or luggage screening. Reiterating the problem does not seem to have begun in the US; however, continuing in the pattern many of these things tend to, the catering company used has a long history of questionable security methods and safety issues; news reporters demonstrated just how easy it was to tamper with airline food provided by the company when an undercover employee armed with a video camera was able to swap out company drinks with his own while inspectors stood nearby backs turned, completely oblivious. Luckily it was a simple example swapping one brand of orange juice for another yet disturbingly inspectors were there and not paying attention, food carts were regularly left unattended for anyone to do anything to edibles consumed by passengers in 28 countries, on thousands of flights daily possibly impacting million yearly. Latest tests regarding the current incident can find no toxins, disease or other dangers other than the needles themselves, people bit into along with their sandwiches; ineptitude of would be tormentors seems to have saved the day. People may not always be so fortunate; too many remember the anthrax mail scare, Sarin gas attacks have happened on public transportation overseas before. We can’t afford to not consider all possibilities when it comes to something someone might attack.
Here again it’s a case of, above all else, failed common sense why are you using a company with a horrible safety and security record forget which westernized nation you are; Amsterdam is a well-known city, popular destination. It is not a city housed within a country just coming out of its developing stages, just beginning to have a stable government, just built an airport or building ones large enough for security to become a priority; neither is it to be assumed are the other 27 countries this catering company provides food for . So why are you using a clearly second rate business for something so important; it’s not a wedding, business party, minor public event where the worst thing that can happen is rubber chicken, bad tasting food or, on the outskirts, cases of slight food poisoning; like every other story presented here, this is a big deal with potentially big consequences. Using a catering companying operating in so many places for something like this can be a hazard as well because it can start in one country and spread to the other 27 the company operates in, be transmitted to any location along one planes desination route never mind all of them. These foods are going on an airplane, tons of steel known to be targets for multiple kinds of sabotage; therefore food should be attended at all times or secured in a location where few people have access, i.e. behind doors with keycard locks where you are easily able to track who goes in and out. Food should be x- rayed and chemical sniffing dogs should be present to detect explosives, biological weapons, before it ever gets on a plane and should given an inspection before it is given to passengers. Noting the two different brands of orange juice flight attendants simply don’t serve the orange juice and secure it for testing. When the company changes brands of product they send notice ahead of said shipment so there is no fear of tampering. It is security and protection 101, but sadly it seems someone has to go after it before we think to protect it.
Finally, the news reporter had it right there is no excuse; this many years after 9-11 we as the flying public should not be hearing these kind of stories. We as the flying public should not have to feel like we are taking our life in our hands any more than we already do every time we attempt to go see relatives, travel for work or wish to see parts of the country, world we live in, because of the threat from those who irrationally hate us. We have already become vigilant passengers, willing heroes if the need should arise; we have already been scared and scarred by out of control flight personnel, out of control pilots, deranged passengers, the stream of stories about things that almost happened. We certainly shouldn’t feel we have to worry on at least two fronts, one about the people who want to kill Americans at any cost, and two about the raving, mentally unstable personnel or passenger who though they don’t have anything threating on their person, have no plans, can still cause plane wide panic, still make people afraid to fly, then thirdly be forced to endure the added pressure of considering the ways our own national, state governments have failed to protect us. We live in a post 9-11 world where we now know that kind of horror is possible; it is past time, long past time that everyone in every aspect of flying understood that, not just the people boarding planes.