Did you hear about the passenger suffering from Tourette's syndrome who couldn't stop saying "bomb" at Washington's Reagan National Airport?
According to an Associated Press story, Michael Doyle was booked to fly from Washington, D.C., to San Juan, Puerto Rico. He had a note from his doctor explaining he had no control over what he might say, which is the main symptom of this disease. The security agents believed his story, but when he got on his JetBlue flight, the repeated word made the pilot nervous and he had Doyle removed from the aircraft. Later the airline apologized and offered to book him on another flight and give him a free ticket. However, Doyle canceled his trip because he was afraid he would have the same problem if he tried to fly again. I've got a pretty good idea what word he might repeat if it happened a second time, but I digress.
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Another passenger used the "bomb" word at Newark International Airport a week ago. Eran Hess, who had flown from Tel Aviv, was bumped from his connecting flight to Miami. He was told his luggage could not be removed. So he angrily told the agent there was a bomb in his suitcase in hopes they would remove it. They did. He really bombed.
Airline personnel and security agents take anything sounding remotely like a threat seriously with good reason. But sometimes it gets out of hand.
Just last Friday, Newark International Airport was shut down for more than an hour. Apparently a mother carrying her baby through a security checkpoint set off the alarm. She handed the baby to her husband who had already cleared security. After the family headed to their gate, the security agents realized the baby had not been screened. So the manhunt (or rather baby hunt) was on. Passengers had to go through a second screening before the terminal was open for business again.
Several years ago there was the passenger who caused a flight to abort and return to the gate by repeating "Bye, Bye airplane" during the safety demonstration. The passenger was considered a safety risk and removed from the flight. A reasonable response? Perhaps. Except the passenger was 18 months old.
It's not just the passengers who cause the panic. Last year the mother of an air traffic controller was seated on a Southwest Airline flight. The pilot on the flight decided to wish her happy birthday over the PA system. He got as far as, "There's a mom onboard ..." before hysteria broke out. Apparently, it sounded like "There's a bomb onboard." It took a while for the crew to calm the passengers. And even then, some of them reported the incident to authorities after landing.
Which goes to show, Sept. 11 and events since that day have caused all of us take air travel much more seriously. Anyone who says "Hi" to his best friend "Jack" can expect to do a lot of explaining.
• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.