Greetings from the Flight Deck—Welcome Aboard!

…Join me on an adventure. A journey. A celebration of flight, regaling tales of world travel, and musings on the “ups n downs” of the rarely lucrative but always rich airline pilot career!

Follow the Adventure

Follow the Adventure...

Join this Site!



Friday, March 16, 2012

Terror in the Skies! Oops, My Bad: Just Some Guy Going to the Lav.

Much amok has been made over a recently re-posted article in Flight Aware Newsletter, about Northwest Airlines Flight 327, back in 2004.  During the flight, a reporter witnessed “strange behavior” from “multiple Middle Eastern-looking men.”  The men congregated in the aisle and frequently went to the lavatory, causing consternation among the passengers.  According to the reporter, the flight attendants were “too terrified” to confront the men.  Multiple articles from the nervous flyer ensued, including “rebuttal” articles chastising the reporter for her politically incorrect paranoia.

But before we launch into a discussion of the rights and wrongs, class, there’s a bit more to the story:
Also onboard Flight 327 were two FAM’s (Federal Air Marshals.)  FAM’s ride discreetly on random airline flights throughout the U.S.  While they can and do assist during any emergency (and yes, they were packin’ heat,) by and large they are only there to thwart any would-be hijackings or other terrorist acts.  Make no mistake, they were well aware of the behavior onboard this particular flight as well.
After the flight, the men were questioned by authorities, who ultimately released them.  Apparently, the men were most decidedly not from al qaeda but from a Syrian band playing in Vegas.  Fear not!  The Sphere-Strolling Syrian Serenaders made their gig.
While this particular case turned out to be embarrassingly innocuous, a strikingly similar incident took place on an America West Airlines flight in 1999; this incident is now acknowledged by the FBI as a probable “dry run” for 9/11.

So, what’s right and wrong here?  
It’s not an easy question, and I don’t have an easy answer.

Sigh . . . I wish!!

Obviously, when it comes to airlines, we want to err on the side of safety.  Can’t be too careful, post-9/11, in the skies.  But then again, this is America, the Land of the Free, and we’ll be durned if we’re gonna let those those al Qaeda thugs crimp our freedom.  So we don’t want to trample on anybody’s rights.  As a result, we err on the side of Politically Correct Safety.  God forbid we “profile”—even though there is a solid, proven demographic that continues to be a real threat.  Personally, I think we could have our Politically Correct Cake and eat it too, by "reverse profiling" - lay off harassing the grannies, bambinos, etc. - you know, the demographics that have yet to prove themselves a threat.  (Though I do I like Israel’s El Al Airlines' approach to Profiling:  “Yeah, we profile.  You gotta problem with dat, Pal?  Step over to the screening room!”  Sound of rubber gloves snapping into place.)*

Since 9/11, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) security rules have changed.  And changed.  And changed.  To the point that we simply shrug and say, “If you don’t like the rules, just wait a couple weeks.”
And, as anyone who has stood in a Disneyland-long security line only to be further delayed by a flight crew cutting the line, the rules have changed for employees as well.  Yes, even flight crew have to clear the metal detectors now.  Contrary to the vast majority of my peers, however, I’m all for this security measure.  Why?  Since the post-9/11 rule change, not once has a crew hijacked itself.  Hey, you can’t argue with 100% success!

Since 9/11 NOT ONCE has a flight crew hijacked itself.
That's a 100% success rate for our heroes at TSA!

Politically Correct Profiling and demographics aside, far and away the most common hijacking threat is that of the lone whack job.  While the freakazoid may vaguely think he's doing it in the name of Allah, whatever that means, most of the time even he doesn’t know why he's doing it.  Often, the perp says later, he did it to “impress a girl.”  Ewwww!
In this type of case, TSA is most effective.  By and large they will snag the Fruitloop long before he even gets near a plane.

“Let’s roll."
—9/11 Hero Todd Beamer  
These famous words, declared on United Flight 93, became America’s 9/11 rallying cry.  Rest assured, today's flight is no longer packed with a flock of docile sheep, but an exaltation of American Eagles itching for payback.  Heaven help the poor sumbich who just wants to hijack the plane to Cuba!
 While it’s reassuring to think I have my own personal, trigger-happy-if-unarmed SWAT team onboard, it’s actually a double-edged sword.  My biggest concern nowadays is actually holding back passengers, who are now spring-loaded to pounce on anyone exhibiting the slightest wackiness.

Get a random group of people together on an airplane, and someone’s gonna be on meds.  Unwittingly feed that guy a drink or two, suck out of the cabin a few thousand feet’s worth of air pressure and common sense,** and suddenly he’s acting a bit, well, whacko.  People, a little heads-up:  it’s a million to one odds your onboard weirdo is anything more than that—a harmless weirdo!

Fear not:  TSA guarantees your flight will be freako-free 
. . . NOT!!!

Then again, there’s always a never-ending supply of that lucky one millionth lotto winner.  But even if the deranged wannabe does manage to sneak aboard and cause a ruckus, he is often easily thwarted by using his whackiness against him.

Once, long before 9/11, my former airline in the Caribbean*** had a hijack incident by just such a nut bag.

A pic of my old airline.
Just because it's so flippin' COOL!
Just before landing at SJU, he burst into the cockpit and demanded to be flown to Cuba.  The Captain said something like, “Yes, sir, right away, sir!  But first we'll need to refuel.”  After landing, the Captain advised the hijacker that he and the FO would have to walk over to the terminal and sign for it.  His answer was a brilliant, “Duh . . . okay!”  Of course, half of Puerto Rico’s police force showed up before the fuel did.
That poor sumbich didn’t make it to Cuba either.

3/24 addendum:
As for the TSA being effective at catching the nubags, I rest my case:  TSA arrests man carrying guns
*El Al has not suffered from a successful terrorist hijacking since 1968; see El Al Security.
** An airliner’s cabin altitude at cruise will typically be about 8,000’; about the elevation of Durango, CO
*** Antilles Air Boats, the precursor to my beloved, now defunct airline, Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle.  Factoids:

  • A.A.B. was founded in the 70's by Brig. Gen./Pan Am Captain Charlie Blaire and his wife, actress Maureen O'Hara.
  • V.I.S.S. was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, while I was working there.  (Gotta be a blog or two in there somewhere!)
  • Currently Seaborne Airlines, operating out of STX, runs a similar seaplane shuttle service.  Another good link here.
  • I nearly cried when I saw a Grumman Goose in the Smithsonian Air & Space Institution, with an "Antilles Air Boats" time schedule next to it.
Sigh . . . nostalgia!


  1. Hey there Capt'n........lets see,... Momma's back.......all is good......Ha Ha..

    I haven't gotten to read this "Post".....yet...
    just want to check in real quick......because I will be giving you a "hard"......time....after I read it........LOL........;))))

    I just realized when I check my "blog reader thingie".....I may not always be clicking on the title of your latest post.......and end up........on an earlier one..........

    you and I have got to be related...some kind of connection.....because there are so many things you say.....I've said...and pics(course I know you steal some...LOL)they are not my steal away........

    that picture of the pilot....with the semi.......I posted that picture on my blog last 9/11........and I titled it............"September 12th"........Catchy huh????

    I'll be checking be on your "best behavior"....
    Strike that............!!!thats no fun.........


    1. Thanks, Jules!
      You're always good for starting the conversation, lol!
      "Sept. 12th" - perfect!

      "Be good, and you will be lonely." - Mark Twain

  2. Hey Captain!

    I read your post, but didn't comment yet! Too busy but do know I'm reading! Hooked to your blog, this is great stuff.
    Building up a network takes time, but if you look at your stats (I think bloggers has this too IIRC) people do read! I have many people viewing my website, inlcuding many other pages from all over the world but not many leaving a comment ;) With such blog as yours, it must be a matter of time!

    Great read once again, laughed so hard because of the poor fella that wanted to go to Cuba lol! Do write those future posts about your airline, looking forward to that!

    Take care,

    1. Thanks, Bas!
      Actually, yeah, I noticed a lot of traffic but no comments. Was worried there was a new setting or format that was preventing comments. Thanks for checking in! Your blog always has one of the highest links to mine, so for that I appreciate it--and hope to repay in kind!

      I wrote a recollection piece about my experience in Hurricane Hugo, that almost got published in "Smitshonian Air & Space." I just have to dig it out of the archives and scan it into cyberworld; hoping I can find it!

  3. Hi Captain,

    Like Julie and Bas, I think you have a great blog here and trust that people will start commenting more. You have an ease to your writing and it feels like you're conversing with the reader--not stuffy at all. Your sense of humour is great too!

    And you don't look down at us "geeks"--we appreciate that! :) LOL!

    We look forward to reading more posts in the future--I can only imagine the stories you have to tell.

    *oh, and thanks for the cookie...maybe you should clean up the place a little--Jules and Bas left crumbs in your flightdeck.

    1. Haha thanks G, I will--can't stand a messy cockpit! I actually carry around a paint brush for extra dusty consoles. They don't have dust on starships!!!

      Here's to hoping I never sound "stuffy." I suppose it lends an "air of mystery" to some pilot blogs, but that's just not me. I'd much rather be down in "steerage" dancing the jig with Jack and Rose and the real people than suffocating up in 1st class with Cal Hockley. Though I'd LOVE to hang with Unsinkable Molly Brown, lol!

      Don't think my cookies can stand up to J's cupcakes though ;-)

  4. Hey Cap,

    When you see aspects of your life in a museum I guess it REALLY makes you feel old! Had to happen sometime! :)

    Not only a great post but also thanks for mentioning security - quite often a taboo in today's day and age - well done....

    As a self confessed Aviation Geek, it hurts me no end to see the way aviation has reacted post-9/11 as, unless I obtain the relevant licenses (unlikely), I will never set foot in the cockpit of a commercial jet during flight when, let's be honest, during cruise you'd probably be glad of the distraction...

    Oh well, back to the simulator - and thanks for another great post!

    Dave from the UK :)

    1. Thank you, Dave!
      Yes, we would certainly love the distraction of visits to the cockpit, but of course that's now a nasty word--"distraction."

      It is frustrating about post-9/11 regs, but by and large they do seem to be working. It has just taken some of the fun out of flying...a little bit at a time.... :-(

      I actually had this blog vetted by another pilot friend to make sure I wasn't "spilling the beans" on any need-to-know stuff, nor going overboard on what criticisms I had. I do think they are legit gripes, though.

      Good luck with any and all relevant licenses!

  5. Once again...outstanding!! Full of wit and great facts!! Spares me a lot of Google time! Thanks for the gift..and educating us once more!!

    1. You're welcome, Coffee Mug!

      I actually was trying to get the FO today to order my coffee in a "mug" but twice he missed that key word and I got it in a styro cup...Ugh!

      Hey, we Captain types get to have our quirks--I think mine's relatively harmless!!

  6. So, Capn'...first off thank you for making these blogs entertaining, amusing, and also very informative. Keep-em coming.

    On this last one I must say that I appreciate the security checks we now have to endure. It miffs me when I hear people complain because they are stuck in the security check lines. This if for their protection too, but again we still have the ignorance of many.

    I flew EL Al from NBO-TLV, got quite the pat down, and even had them open up a Tampax cause they had no idea what it was, to my embarrassment being a 15 year old girl. It was my most intensive airline security I have ever gone through in my world traveling, but I appreciate that. So, I say go ahead TSA, and do your job.

    Just to bad you pilots couldn't carry a laser gun, or even a sleeping dart gun (is that what it's called?)ha! It would help maybe putting them whacko's

    Look forward to the next blog....Bon :)

    1. Thank you, Bon.

      You make a very good point. It's a necessary "evil" we have to endure, thanks to those violent types out there, of all kinds. That's an interesting anecdote about El Al! Flying from Kenya to Tel Aviv, I can imagine they are pretty durn thorough!!

      I have no problem with effective security; it just strikes me as ironic that I am being patted down at TSA security, in full dress uniform and i.d., with 30+years of flying and a 10-year background check, by a person who can barely speak English and wearing some kind of foreign garb...

      Dart gun--great idea!!!
      Though I trust my Krav Maga better lol!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Thank you all so much for "rising to the challenge!" I really was worried this post wasn't getting out there, or you couldn't comment, or some such. I'll be more patient next time. You guys rock!!

  8. And PS--I am SOO looking forward to your "hard time," Jules!!

    1. Oh really? *sits down and gets popcorn ready* ;)

  9. ya know who the real terrorist are...........the Jehovah Witnesses that show up at my door on Saturday mornings with their back packs full of "watchtower pamphlets"............

    while going through 'customs and immigration' in Canada recently .......the one immigration officer grilled me like there was no tomorrow...........

    Hell I din't know you could forget your own name so damn fast..............
    he asked me how I was leaving the airport......told him I was being picked up by a friend who had just text me............He made me show him my prove I wasn't lying.............surprised me...yes.....

    but hey ask away...just doesn't mean I'm gonna score high on my own life pop

    remove your belt
    remove your shoes
    take computer out of bag
    no jewerly
    empty pockets
    take off your coat
    carry on...wheels up
    boarding pass clentched in your teeth

    "Excuse Me sir....but are you carrying more than 3 fluid oz's of "DUMBASS" on you????

    so you can get on the side of the glass door..........
    walk down the a $20.00 mag...from someone who can barely speak English......Mmmmm...

    it's a neccessary evil......Agreed!
    how about common sense........???
    Safety comes first........I know...
    Too bad it's the majority always having to suffer because of a few.........

    I like knowing there are Air Marshalls out protect us!!!

    Thanks Guys!!!!!!!!
    and I agree the Best Line of defense against WAKO' US!!...
    who want "PAY BACKI"!!!!
    ..........and Yes, like our Hero Todd Beamer, probably his last words spoken..........."LETS ROLL"........WE WILL NEVER FORGET!!!!!!!!!!

    Yes Capt'n I want to dance in steerage with Jack and Rose........and thats what I do when I visit your among friends...........laugh and tell about serious issue's as well............and Love Aviation!!!!!
    speaking of Nostalgia......Capt'n...........isn't someone gonna be making the big 50 this year??????????

    Looks like the time to buy some tennis balls for said 'Walker'..... may be ..........just around the "coronor"......ooops I mean "corner"......YIKS....just think of the great parking places you'll get in your A-319....:))))))

    Safe flying........Capt'n E......come see my blog soon..........I'll have fresh cookies baked............
    ps.....Seriously.......I really do appreciate the Great Job you do everyday....from an office with the best view ON the world!!!!!!


  10. Great Article. I am fascinated by flying and I would love to be a pilot someday. Not sure if I have the time or the $$$ for the training though. Maybe someday...

    Liked the Durango, Colorado reference. I used to live there and I can tell ya, the air is definitely thinner there. On the plus side -- When I moved back to Texas, I was able to outrun all of my friends!!
    Take care and have a great week

    1. Hey there, "semi-madman," thanks for checking in!
      I love Durango--used to fly the Dash 8 in there n almost moved there (for a girl, no less, lol!)

  11. Hey there Matt........I am just Teasing......Remember that ......OK!!!!!!

    but if you want to be a pilot......might wanna change your 'avatar'............
    I'm joking here.......!!!..not to mention............I'll never out run ya........eshhhh.....
    yea.........I went for the cheap laugh...........sorry.......:)))))

  12. So many familiar names here :-)

    As an owner of an Israeli citizenship, I have the possibility to avoid all these strict airport checks, but every time I visit my family and then going back to Denmark, I always get through some silly/funny questions. My mum and I always make jokes about that, trying to guess what kind of questions I should expect next time (the fact is, that these questions never repeat).

    But if you travel by plane from Eilat, then everybody should open up their luggage, and Israeli citizenship does not save you from that. In 2007 I had all my luggage carefully checked: I purchased some face masks/creams, and I've been asked to open the emballages up. I also had lots of books in Russian in my briefcase, and that security guy asked my what these books are about, and after that he came with a stupid remark, mentioning the fact that reading books is so... non-modern. That was an unsuitable behaviour, IMHO. His job is to care for security, and not to critisize passengers for their hobbies! But I did my best to stay calm and to answer his question with a smile on my face, just like I always do in similar situations: as soon as you start getting mad, arguing or showing impatience, you can turn into a suspect. As long as you stay calm, these security checks will go smoothly and would last shorter :-)

    But foreign citizens get through way tougher checks, some of them end up being very upset/insulted, and deep in my heart I can understand them. On other side - airport security is a very important thing, and I'd rather open up my briefcase and take my shoes off before boarding, than to experience another Lockerbie Disaster ( or Air India 182 ) on my own skin! Those security workers don't do their job for fun, they just want to minimize the risks for hijackings and explosions onboard.

    Best Regards


    1. Wow, what interesting experiences, K! Esp. the strange comment from the security guy. I guess they are human and trying to have a little conversation, even though perhaps they can't really come out and be nice, huh?!

      Yes, we all - passengers and crew - certainly have to sigh and learn to be patient, which is a challenge. It is a "necessary evil" of our modern age, unfortunately.

      Thank you so much for your detailed reply! I look forward to chatting again.


  13. Good morning :-)

    Actually, I've done a silly thing by mentioning Eilat: it wasn't an El-Al flight, but Arkia or Israir (I flew to Eilat with both of them, but can't remember what year I flew with which: my memory does not get any better with time ;-) ). I believe it was Israir in 2007, Arkia in 2008 and Israir again in 2010, but I might be wrong).

    I don't know so much about the level of security on those two smaller carriers, as I never used them to flying abroad, but it has a lot to do with airports. Eilat's airport is tiny, but security checks are VERY strict there, much more than in Ben Gurion. On other side, workers in BG are way more professional: when I'm being asked all these questions, they can sound kinda funny, but I know there's nothing personal about them: the reason they ask me this is because they would like to see my reaction, and I'm always 100% honest about everything. Those security guys/girls are often very polite, and when they finish the questionary, they even apologise for that , although I don't think they should do that, as I'm not feeling offended at all :-)

    And now I only have 25 hours until my flight to Amsterdam :-)

    Have an excellent day



Sorry, folks, due to more spamming, Word Verification is back on. If you have trouble posting, please email your comments to me and I will post it for you!