Today, Every Busybody’s a King
There are people out there who want to kill us.
Newt Gingrich (via Reason.com).
As a people, we are not widely traveled. The great majority of Americans have never traveled outside of North America. It’s no surprise to me at all that a passenger on a Denver-to-Detroit Frontier Airlines flight would, seeing two Indian passenger going several times to the restroom, conclude that OH MY GOD THEY’VE GOT A BOMB THEY’RE GOING TO BLOW UP THE PLANE! and report it to the cabin crew. Because it’s a scary world “out there” if you’ve never been “out there” where the “people” are who “want to kill us” and you can’t be too careful.
Airline crews, however—maybe not Frontier Airlines crews, but crews in general—are more widely traveled. So I would expect said cabin crew to take said report with a grain of salt. Maybe talk to said Indian passengers? Ask them how they’re doing? See if there’s suspicious smoke coming out of their footwear or undergarments? Offer them a drink? Engage them in conversation? See what vibe they’re giving off?
But nooooo. Cabin crew reports to captain; captain calls police; plane lands safely in Detroit; police board plane paramilitary-style; police remove two Indian men and the third passenger in their row (who happens to be of Middle-Eastern descent) from the plane, arrest them, strip-and-cavity search them, and interrogate them; FBI and HSA (Heimatssicherheitabteilung) interrogate them; fingerprint them; search their phones; before concluding that—heh, get this—the two Indian passengers just needed to go to the bathroom.
When the third passenger (who wrote the post linked to immediately above) was released, the FBI agent “said they had to act on a report of suspicious behavior, and this is what the reaction looks like.” That may well be true from the FBI agent’s point of view—once the police soldier-wannabes have yanked the passengers off the plane and arrested them, FBI should be able to safely assume that there is something worth investigating—but before the police even got involved, the reporting busybody and—more importantly—Frontier Airlines’ employees failed in their responsibilities.
As a citizen in a free country, the reporting busybody had a responsibility not to go running to authorities with her paranoid theories, but to make sure there was something there first—talk to the Indian passengers, maybe objectively review the situation. As a passenger on the airplane, she had a responsibility to herself and her fellow passengers to try to keep them from coming to any harm—harm, here, being much greater if the possible bad men do something at 30,000 feet than on the ground.
As people responsible for the safety of the passengers, the flight attendants had a responsibility to investigate the allegations and ascertain whether the Indian passengers might really be a risk. (Did the flight crew think that they were making things better by not confronting the possible bad men?)
As the guy with absolute authority, the captain had a responsibility to get his passengers safely and timely to their destination.
Any of these people failed. They all could have realized—especially once the plane was on the ground—that there was no risk, and that the busybody was overreacting to somethink. But because it’s a scary world “out there,” when the guy who does something that you maybe weren’t expressly expecting doesn’t look like a native of Denver or Detroit, you presume the worst, and instead of talking with the guy from “out there,” which might allow you to decide whether the risk is real or not and act or relax, you call on the government to make you safe.
Guess what: when you’re six miles up in an airplane, the government can’t make you safe. When seconds count, they’re only minutes away. That this airplane landed without the crew determining that the passengers were not a risk was as a failure of the most important component of airline security.
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