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posted: 3/11/2012 6:00 AM

Are travel safety concerns going a little overboard?

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Did you hear about the Southwest Airlines pilot who caused a panic attack on his aircraft with a simple act of kindness?

According to a Newsday story, an air traffic controller contacted the pilot to tell him that the mother of one of their controllers was on his flight.

Apparently he asked the pilot to wish her a happy birthday. So the pilot got on the PA system and attempted to do so. He got as far as, "There's a mom onboard." To many of the passengers, this apparently sounded like, "There's a bomb on board" and the fun began.

Flight attendants and the pilot were able to explain the snafu and calm the crowd, but a couple of the passengers were still upset enough to contact security after landing. And that's what makes this story unique.

In the past, it has been the airline crews and security agents who have taken the dialogue seriously. And no wonder. With the airlines and airports at high alert, flight crews and security agents are understandably concerned. A simple "Hi" to your good friend Jack can cause you to miss your flight. But sometimes they go overboard.

Last week, while going through security at San Francisco International Airport, I overheard a passenger tell an agent, "Be careful with that bag. You never know what you'll find." That passenger found himself in a private pat-down area wishing he had kept his mouth shut.

A few years ago, an aircraft was aborted and returned to the gate when a passenger repeatedly said, "Bye-bye aircraft" while the flight attendant was giving the safety demonstration. Removing the passenger from the flight sounds like a reasonable response, except he was 18-months old.

In the quest for safety, the TSA continuously adds new devices to keep our country safe. But at times they take the changes to ridiculous extremes and the travelers rebel.

When one passenger felt the pat-downs became too intense at Salt Lake City International Airport, he stripped down to a Speedo swimsuit before going through scanning. And other passengers have stripped even further.

When concerns were raised about the safety of the new body-scanning machines, some passengers advocated a sort of passenger strike. Again at Salt Lake International Airport, angry travelers caused an airport slowdown. They organized several travelers to request pat-downs in lieu of the scanning machines and caused major delays for several airlines.

When parents became irate over requiring young children to remove their shoes, the TSA finally decided children weren't a huge terrorist risk. They rescinded the regulation so children 12 and under can keep their shoes on when they pass through security.

But in the past it was the airline personal and the security agents who carried the fear factor to the extreme. Now it seems passengers, who rarely listened to the announcements, are tuning in. Air travel has become serious business. As that pilot learned, any conversation can be taken out of context and just doesn't fly these days.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at

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