• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    The pilot says we’re climbing

    There aren’t many fascinating things about CNN.com, but one is the frequent distance between its photo captions and the content of the stories they’re attached to. Check out this story, headlined “Coping with in-flight violence.” The accompanying photo shows…well, I’m not sure who’s subduing whom there, but the caption pretty clearly says, “As a passenger it’s best to leave it to the experts when flying.” If you fly frequently, you’re already silently qualifying that statement in your head, and if you read the accompanying story, you get:

    “If — and that could be a big if — air marshals are on board it would be preferred that the passengers allow them to do what they have been trained to do,” Hamilton said. “Passengers must cooperate with them and do exactly as told.

    “Federal air marshals have credentials and will identify themselves as soon as practical. It will be easy to see who they are. They will not identify themselves until after someone has identified themselves as a terrorist/hijacker,” Hamilton added.

    But, as he indicated, not all flights carry air marshals.

    “You can’t put them on every flight,” said Mark Bogosian, a first officer who crews Boeing 757-767s for a major U.S. airline. He said he knows that because flight crews are told when an air marshal is on board and who it is.

    “Unless law enforcement is on board, especially now with cockpit doors locked, the passengers and flight attendants are the first line of defense.” Bogosian said. “If law enforcement is not on board and there’s an incident, it is up to the flight attendants and the passengers.”

    In other words, if (purely felicitously) you wander onto an airliner that’s been assigned an air marshal (which you won’t know until an emergency begins), stay out of the way and do what you’re told. Otherwise, it’s you and the flight attendants, baby. Just hope the gay ones are the gym-bunny/tae kwan do-class type! It isn’t until two-thirds of the way down the page that you learn that the article is publicizing…a book about self-defense for airline passengers. No, I’m not kidding.

    I realize that these issues are not simple. Keeping air marshals undercover allows their existence to be used to intimidate hijackers but avoids the expense of putting one on every plane. It also prevents terrorists from taking them out before turning on the passengers, and so on. What sticks in my craw is the way leaning on agencies (or private groups funded by same) for sustenance and protection is constantly portrayed as the desirable state of things. Learning how to take responsibility for your non-specialist self is presented as the outlier, the special case, the thing you do when your minders are busy with other things and you’re caught off-guard.

    Training flight attendants to deal with hijackings would mean more if they were armed. They are, after all, the particular subset of “professionals” and “experts” who know the ins and outs of the planes they man. More than the passengers, they would be able to use their familiarity with the environment strategically. Besides, how cool would it be if one of those hard-bitten, frosted-haired old dinosaur stewardesses on American or United planted herself in the middle of the aisle, growled, “The captain has turned the seatbelt sign ON, sir!” and saved a planeload of people by shooting a terrorist? Her 300 million countrymen would adore her forever.

    Well, probably not all 300 million. In a few days, there would be a story on Reuters headlined, “Flight 123 ‘heroine’ may have committed procedural violation.” There would be investigations and soul-searching and a stack of new clearance forms and a segment on Crossfire. Knowing this, passengers who can’t arm themselves, and who can’t depend on armed crews to protect them, may as well make the best of it and learn how to knee miscreants in the groin. It’d be nice if CNN realized that was the real story, though.

    Comments are closed.