The Stories You Don’t Hear

The past two days have brought a variety of stories of airport security episodes. Among them: a Saudi dressed as a pilot arrested in the Manila airport; Saudi passengers becoming unruly and disobeying the flight crew on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit targeted on Christmas; and a Pakistani becoming loud and unruly on a flight to San Francisco.

But many more stories go unreported.

On Monday, at Phoenix’s Big Sky Airport, one such episode occurred. About 45 minutes before Southwest Airlines flight 3056 to Austin was scheduled to depart, a Muslim woman dressed in a burka passed by the gate pushing a janitor’s cart. Two or three minutes later, two security officials came to occupy a position at one end of the gate. Moments later, two others appeared at the other end of the gate. Both pairs chatted and tried to appear casual, but were examining the gate area, watching for something suspicious. A minute later, the gate agent announced that it was time to board, and rushed through the instructions. An officer went over to those in line to board, asked each person for ID, and studied the IDs and faces carefully with a UV light to verify the IDs’ authenticity. As soon as IDs were checked, people were rushed onto the plane. The flight was oversold, and people were offered $300 vouchers to deplane. The plane sat at the gate for 10 minutes, and then taxied slowly to the runway. The flight continued without incident. Passengers were unusually talkative, as if to release tension.

I haven’t been able find out what prompted this. I wonder how many other security incidents have occurred since the Christmas bombing attempt that we haven’t heard anything about? Apparently there have been many. ABC News opines, “This is just the latest in a string of panicked calls to police over incidents on planes that turned out to be nothing.” Maybe they really are nothing. Maybe people are being hypercautious. Maybe these are attempts to probe the system. Or maybe they’re intended to get people to stop being so careful, by generating a “boy-crying-wolf” reaction.

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