The power of words when it comes to flying

Did you hear about the bird brain who tweeted bomb scares to two airlines and then flew the coop?

Apparently, this would-be terrorist sent messages to Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines claiming he placed bombs in two airplanes. Both planes were bound for Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport. The Delta flight took off from Portland, Oregon, and the Southwest flight from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Military aircraft escorted both planes to Atlanta where the FBI's bomb squads and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the aircrafts. They found nothing.

But what's worrisome is these aren't the only recent threats airlines have received. Threats were also made against two Delta Air Lines flights - one flying from San Francisco to New York and one flying from New York to Tel Aviv. And there have been others.

Bomb threats are nothing new. During the 1960s, crank calls claiming bombs onboard were almost epidemic. So, in briefings before our flights, the captain would inform us of these threats, and insure us the plane had been thoroughly examined. They would give us the choice of flying or not. The thought of turning into fish bait in the middle of the Atlantic made us edgy. But throwing off our schedules for the rest of the month seemed worse. So most of us took the trips.

This was the case on one particular flight from New York to Madrid. The pilot told us to keep our eyes open for any unusual passengers. One particularly squirrely man sent us running to the cockpit. The co-pilot came back and talked to him. He told us we were being too skittish and to lighten up. So we spent the rest of the flight waiting for the big bang that would send us for eternity to that great airplane in the sky. It didn't happen.

The next day, the same man boarded our return flight. We were convinced his first bomb was a dud and he was trying again.

It turned out the man was traveling with his dog. When he got to Madrid, he couldn't find a hotel that allowed furry friends. So the two of them slept on a park bench and he booked an immediate return flight home. He was definitely eccentric, but we were barking up the wrong tree.

It's not just the crank calls that cause problems. There are still jokers who think making a crack about bombs to a security agent is really funny. Early last year, I overheard a passenger tell an agent to be careful of his carry-on because it might blow. The agent missed the humor. The comedian was escorted away. He bombed even if his carry-on didn't.

So, be careful what you say when you fly. The government has no sense of humor when it hears banter about terrorism. Besides being frightening, these bogus bomb scares are expensive for the government and the airlines as well. Which means travelers will see the results in their ticket prices. But most of all, let's hope this new run on bomb scares stops before something serious happens.

• 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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