Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
October 7, 2004
Disrupting Air Travel with Arabic Writing
In August, I wrote about the stupidity of United Airlines returning a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles back to Sydney because a flight attendant found an airsickness bag with the letters "BOB" written on it in a lavatory. ("BOB" supposedly stood for "Bomb on Board.")
I received quite a bit of mail about that. Most of it was supportive, but some people argued that the airline should do everything in its power to protect its passengers and that the airline was reasonable iand acting prudently.
The problem with that line of reasoning is that it has no limits. In corresponding with people, I asked whether a flight should be diverted if one of the passengers was wearing an orange shirt: orange being the color of the DHS's heightened alert level. If you believe that the airline should respond drastically to any threat, no matter how small, then they should.
That example was fanciful, and deliberately so. Here's another, even more fanciful, example. Unfortunately, it's a real one.
Last month in Milwaukee, a Midwest Airlines flight had already pulled away from the gate when someone, the articles don't say who, found Arabic writing in his or her copy of the airline's in-flight magazine.
I have no idea what sort of panic ensued, but the airplane turned around and returned to the gate. Everyone was taken off the plane and inspected. The plane and all the luggage was inspected. Surprise; nothing was found.
The passengers didn't fly out until the next morning.
This kind of thing is idiotic. Terrorism is a serious problem, and we're not going to protect ourselves by overreacting every time someone's overactive imagination kicks in. We need to be alert to the real threats, instead of making up random ones. It simply makes no sense.
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