bob August 10, 2012 6:22 AM

“Terrorists can’t build a plot around random occasional security failures.”

Which, in turn, are based around 11 year olds…

Henning Makholm August 10, 2012 7:00 AM

Is there even any random occasional SECURITY failure here? According to the article the boy managed to get on a plane without buying a ticket, but not without going through the airport security checks.

It’s at most an economic problem for the airline if the failure to check tickets properly is so prevalent that most passengers start trying to free-ride rather than pay.

Nick Piggott August 10, 2012 7:04 AM

Manchester Airport was at pains to point out that he’d been correctly security screened, so posed no security risk as such. What failed was the process of checking his boarding pass to allow him entry to airside, and then more concerningly a failure by the airline to check his boarding pass before he boarded. As Jet2 (the airline in question) has “free seating”, it would have been harder for passengers and crew to realise he was an extra head. The airline subsequently enforced an on-board passenger count, to ensure that boarded passenger numbers matched the manifest.

Hugo August 10, 2012 7:31 AM

“The boy went through full security screening, so the safety of passengers and the aircraft was never compromised.”

Oh sure. And the fact that it’s an 11 year old boy has of course nothing to do with it. What an amateur…

NoxIN August 10, 2012 8:21 AM

I think on the contrary that this is a major security concern.

I mean security focus on terrorists threat, and here it’s not the issue as you point out.

But the real point of security is to ensure security of all people, here the security of the boy was not assured. If no passenger “became suspicious” the boy could have ended alone in another country.

Clive Robinson August 10, 2012 8:33 AM

The onee thing I can say about this 11 year old is he shows great promise, if he carries on like this I predict he will get quite far in life 😉

abadidea August 10, 2012 9:01 AM

Although I can only wonder what on earth would possess an 11yo to try to run away on a plane (with, presumably, no luggage or anything), I think it’s interesting to note that it was other passengers who correctly inferred something was wrong and did something about it. (If I had to guess, someone sitting next to him asked him where his parents were and he hadn’t thought his excuses all the way through.)

As for if the other passengers hadn’t noticed – since he was flying to another country, I assume that the passport check would have caught him and his embassy would be contacted. So ironically, he coulda been in more trouble if he flew domestic and landed in an airport where they just let you walk off the plane…

nycman August 10, 2012 9:40 AM

Seems to me the correct response by TSA should be to install scanners to detect 11 year old boys. Of course, they should also ask “Are you an 11 year old boy?” during your ID check.

j.a.duke August 10, 2012 9:54 AM


What about 10 or 12 year old boys?

And, are we discriminating or sexist if we don’t ask the same question of girls?

boog August 10, 2012 10:05 AM


Yeah, I saw that too. I like the implication that full security screening is apparently a guarantee of safety (and the only guarantee of safety). Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

If I recall, most (if not all) terrorist attacks on airlines (whether succeeding or failing) go through full security screening.

NobodySpecial August 10, 2012 10:28 AM

@nycman – although they would probably ask “are you now or have you ever been an 11 year old boy”. They would also need to ban potential future 11 year old boys.

Clive Robinson August 10, 2012 12:54 PM

All jokes aside the incident does raise one point that we see with other systems.

That is he got through an initial check and subsequent checks because of assumptions.

The first assumption was he was part of a family he “tail ended” and after that each subsiquent stage assumed he had been checked by a previous stage so did not check further. Right onto the aircraft where the airline did no checking because they assumed all the previous checks would have stopped anybody who should not have been on the aircraft.

This is a known type of problem however the logical solution which is make less stages and each stage more responsible does not work either because beyond a certain level of checking the checkers will become overloaded and miss checks out.

It is issues like this, that some people are good at spotting and exploiting. But furrther it tells us something important, that security implemented solely by humans against other humans can only be to a certain level, after which it naturaly starts to fail under it’s own weight due to human failings.

This is a known problem on production lines that is usually solved by attaching a “check list” to each item and as they progress down the line each checker stamps/ticks the appropriate box on the check list.

However when the items are sentient an attached list fails because the sentient item can tick their own check boxes.

This is usually solved with livestock handlers and hospitals by attaching a “bar code” or equivelent to the sentient item and the “system” scans the code at each check and the system then holds the “check list” and updates it at each stage.

This taging and scanning is by nomeans foolproof when it comes to sentient items that also whish to deceive which is why we have “tamper proof” seals etc which as we know are either cheap and fallible or expensive and difficult to remove at the end of the. checking process.

After some thought you will realise that checklists with sentient and potentialy deceitful items actuall only works by the consent of the items being checked. And it is this “consent” that actually defines just what level of checking will work in a market driven system.

The follow on from this is an interesting problem that history has not provided a solution to and we end up with the notion of “presumed consent” with punishment for “opting out” with the ultimate threat of forcefull descent when the presumption becomes to onerous. Which is the basis of “democracy” in that we allow ourselves to be governed with the threat of ostracisation from society as punishment, but with the actions of the governing limited by the threat of revolution and “regiside”.

The founding fathers were well aware of this issue and thus to limit the build up of destructive forces and the ensuing great harms to society in general it put significant limitations on the build up of standing armed forces by the governing and the right for the citizens to “bear arms” and in return requiring them to be responsible for their own defense by the raising of malitia.

Unfortunatly as a solution it has failed the US now has the worlds greatest standing armed forces (estimated to be twenty times that of the next nearest nation) and “Law enforcment agencies” without liability (DHS/TSA) to the people. All that has changed is “The King” is now “A President” and Barons and Earls have been replaced with corperations and politicians.

As was once engraved by diamond ring on glass pain “The more things change the more they stay the same”.

moo August 10, 2012 1:05 PM

What was his motivation? He didn’t want to go home with his parents, so he decided to sneak onto a plane flight to Rome instead? I’m confused.

Jan August 10, 2012 1:39 PM

I didn’t need to show a passport or ID card when flying from Frankfurt airport to Stockholm. Twice. I don’t think it’s considered a “bug”, I think it’s a feature. Of course, I still needed a ticket, but that could have been for any name.

George August 10, 2012 1:58 PM

It’s perhaps a good thing this happened in Britain rather than in the US.

If it had happened in the US, the TSA would have immediately gone into Rapid Reaction Mode. That’s a special condition intended to shield the entire TSA bureaucracy from any blame or accountability for the failure, while simultaneously punishing everyone who flies by adding a new “layer” of reactive intrusive hassle.

Since this failure involved a pre-teen boy, the TSA’s punishment would probably involve some additional restrictions or hassles on the parents of any pre-teen boys who happen to be guilty of traveling by air. Since invasive patdowns of children are as yet too sensitive to bully travelers into accepting, invasive inspections of parents would be an appropriate punitive “security” measure to demonstrate TSA’s resolve and ability to respond rapidly to security breaches.

David Harper August 10, 2012 2:51 PM

According to a BBC radio news item, the boy hid in the plane’s lavatory during take-off, which is how he evaded detection by the cabin crew until well into the flight.

Figureitout August 10, 2012 6:25 PM

Correction to my joke made in haste: Home Alone VI? (Yes, they’re making a fifth one, your welcome) And it would have to be similar to the second one in plot, with a cheesy subtitle like “When a kid’s in Rome..” 🙂

The more things change the more they stay the same

Have you ever thought of motivational speaking? 🙂

Jonathan Wilson August 10, 2012 10:34 PM

Its clearly the failure of the airline here, every time I have boarded an airplane for as far back as I can remember the airline scans your boarding pass at the gate before you board.

Snowman August 11, 2012 3:52 AM

This is the second airport security / airline security screw up in the UK over the last 2 months. The previous was about an Australian surfer flying from London to Biarritz, France. The guy ended up in Sweden and only noticed when the pilot said there were flying over Denmark.

Wael August 11, 2012 4:08 AM

@ David Harper

According to a BBC radio news item, the boy hid in the plane’s lavatory during take-off, which is how he evaded detection by the cabin crew until well into the flight.

This is what is known as “excuse worse than mistake” (translation of an Arabic proverb).[1]

The crew need to make sure seatbelts are buckled, trays are up, and lavatories are empty once they close the cabin door(s) and start moving.

[1] An example of using that phrase: a young student is late to class, the professor tells him, you are late, don’t do it again. The student replies, sorry sir, I was smoking a cigarette. Then the teacher would say: “An excuse worse than a mistake (or guilt)”

Dirk Praet August 11, 2012 3:50 PM

Looks like a clear case of a failure cascade to me. It’s the inevitable result of protocols and procedures not being followed.


The US now has the worlds greatest standing armed forces (estimated to be twenty times that of the next nearest nation) and law enforcement agencies without liability (DHS/TSA) to the people

Unfortunately, it doesn’t even end there. I wonder what the Founding Fathers would have thought of the new NDAA in practice overruling Posse Comitatus and sections of the Bill of Rights. Or the mainstream media’s total black-out on the subject. Or domestic drone surveillance, Trapwire etc. etc. The tragic thing is that most Americans aren’t even realising (or caring) what’s happening to their democracy, as sadly shown by the petition to the White House asking the TSA to uphold the law not even reaching the 25k signatures needed.

Anon5 August 11, 2012 6:11 PM


I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but China has a larger military than the US.

Clive Robinson August 12, 2012 2:22 AM

@ Anon5,

I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but China has a larger military than the US

Dirk was quoting a part of what I had said a little further up this page. The problem with “estimates” is what you count and why and do you do it equally for both sides (usually not). This issue was something that came up during the “cold war” time and time again one way or another.

For instance in Israel and Switzerland and a number of other places what would normly be considered to be “civilians” could be counted as “soldiers” because of the “minute man principle”

Likewise the US coastguard, would by many other nations be considered part of the US standing army along with the “weekend warriors” and the various armed LEO’s.

It is argued that the “War Hawk” estimates for Chinese armed forces are usually “significantly inflated” by these “internal security” organisations of which China has many. Likewise the armed forces and LEO’s of the “buffer” or “vassal” nations such as North Korea around China’s borders (during the “cold war” the US military pretended they stood alone for their estimate whilst including all Warsaw Pact nations into the Russia estimate).

And this is just a “head count” it does not go on to include the “force multipliers” of the weapons and other technology available to be deployed by these bodies able or not (with some technology like drones you could be significantly disabled such as have no legs and still be effectivly a soldier, sailor or airman even though no where near the “front line”).

Another trick used during the cold war was “reliability of weapons”. It was known that US nukes were (initialy) due to all the protection mechanisms of PALs not as reliable as those without by a factor of about two. Also the US ICBMs were also being rotated through maintainance rather quickly as well and some estimates indicated as much as a third were unavailable at any one time. However the argument was that this was not the same for the Warsaw Pact (based on their short range tactical weapons). Thus after much hand waving the US military strove to have few tactical nukes and tried to maintain atleast two strategic nukes against the highest estimate of all Warsaw Pact tactical and strategic nukes combined, not just the “Russian ICBM’s”

So you have to take “the estimates” with a pich of salt around the size of “Lot’s Wife”.

Anon5 August 12, 2012 1:24 PM


The US coast guard is small, maybe 50k personnel, so whether you include it or not doesn’t make much of a difference. I don’t know anyone who considers local LEOs part of the US military. If you exclude China’s internal security forces and count the US reliance on civilians and contractors, you might be able to argue that the US is up to twice as large as the Chinese military. However, suggesting the difference in manpower numbers is anywhere near 20x is BS.

Figureitout August 12, 2012 2:03 PM

@ Anon5

50k is still a large number considering the troop surge of 30k in Iraq war and the supposed difference it made. You also can’t deny the similarities and cooperation between LEO’s and military personnel and the further militarization we are seeing with LEO’s. The main reason for his statement was the “force multipliers” advantage US has, which count as many times more people. How many aircraft carriers does China have?

He also said to take the estimates with a chunk of salt the size of a person; which can be said of many things 🙂

Anon5 August 12, 2012 3:41 PM


The US active duty military, which excludes reserves, national guard, civilians, and contractors, stands at about 1.4 million. Hence, 50k may not be a rounding error, but it is close. If anything, China has more domestic law enforcement and internal security forces than the US, so including them doesn’t increase the US/China ratio.

Petter August 12, 2012 5:47 PM

Last year a colleague of mine traveled from Stockholm to London Heathrow and back only to be stopped at the border control at Arlanda Airport when the officer asked him how long he been away.
Three days, he replied.
The officer told him his passport had been out of date for a month, but said Did we let you out on this I’d better let you in again.

DavidTC August 13, 2012 4:39 PM

The officer told him his passport had been out of date for a month, but said Did we let you out on this I’d better let you in again.

I think the UK passport guy was confused.

Passports are ways for people to be able to provide proof of who they are and what country they’re a citizen of to other countries. They are not really entrance and exit visas for your own country.

Countries really only check their own citizen’s passports on the way out to make sure their citizens not going to arrive at another country and be refused entrance. Technically, you can leave your own country even without a passport. In fact, it’s a principle of intentional law that people should not be generally restrained from leaving a country.

I rather doubt any airline would let you on their plane, because they’re going to land in another country that’s going to want to see a passport. But if you’re not going to another country, like out into international waters, you can do that without a passport just fine.

And passports, on the way back into the issuing country, are just a way to skip all the ‘prove you’re a citizen and that you’re not sneaking in’ hassles. So the whole ‘international waters’ thing can get a little annoying if the coast guard grabs you on the way back. But you just need ‘proof of citizenship or lawful residency’, not ‘a passport’ per se.

Assuming that the guy with the expired passport didn’t have his citizenship revoked, which an expired passport would be irrelevant to, the UK should let him in regardless.

The country that fell down on the job was Sweden, by letting in someone that might not actually be a UK citizen or who he says he is.

Although a passport that is a few days out of date is not really an indicator of that. It’s not really an indicator of anything. This is part of the nonsense of the entire concept of ‘expiring IDs’…like you somehow might stop being who you say you are, so every few years we have to check.

Not a terrablist August 13, 2012 5:10 PM

They spend too much time on passenger harassment and not near enough checks on other methods that can be exploited, such as malicious actors working as ground crew or live animal shipments.

If you want to ship a live animal, you can build your own kennel with a false bottom and drop it off at the cargo facility. They won’t even look at it twice. What if that false bottom was full of explosives. Live animals are given priority shipping, so guaranteed to get on the flight of your choosing.

Passenger list confidentiality is terrible, as any celebrities, royals or other high value targets are talked about by all the ground staff to each other and their counterparts at the destination. We used to get SITA txt messages “Hey, check out so-and-so celebrity on this plane” all the time.

The ground crew is typically paid next to minimum wage with high turnover, and is always hiring. Security check doesn’t take very long. In fact, the less history you have in a country, the faster you get your security clearance because they don’t have to trace you back for over 10+ years since you have no history to check. We used to joke when I was a ground crew wage slave how even after 9/11 half the people working with us were Afghani immigrants. Granted they left to escape the madness there, but I bet nobody taking a flight to the US had any idea that the guy’s loading up the plane were from Kandahar.

It would be trivial to smuggle in explosive bomb making material, assemble it at work in your spare time, and throw it in the cargo hold as you close up the plane before departure. Nobody ever checks. They used to have customs guy’s watching the crew for smuggling but not anymore due to cutbacks, mainly to pay for all those naked scanners and other nonsense security machines.

I can think of 100 other methods a malicious actor could use to either smuggle drugs or bombs onto an aircraft but definitely don’t want to write a how-to guide to terrorism. Much of the anecdotal incidents with smuggling was based on real life encounters with con men pretending to be embassy employees picking up diplomatic shipments, and the disturbing non security used in high value shipments (protip: the high val shipments get loaded IN THE CABIN, right beside the cockpit. You can bring them stuff the size of a shoebox and they’ll take it without a customs search if you know what you’re doing).

So many other methods. But hey, good thing they are grabbing our junk and giving us full glove cavity searches. Surely no terrablist will discover another method that doesn’t involve physically being on the plane. Let’s just keep sexually assaulting everybody and hope for the best.

Not a terrorist August 13, 2012 5:16 PM

Should also note, the one time I saw an Israeli flag flight departing, none of the above was remotely possible. They had their own security check every single cargo box, regardles what was in it or if it was sealed. They also had some Mossad looking guy’s in suits and shades watching the outside of the plane like hawks, and no local crews were allowed near it, they brought their own ground crew with exception to fuel, and that was basically a local guy fueling with 3 other guy’s watching his every move.

Seirously we could learn a lot from El Al Airlines

Petter August 15, 2012 5:50 AM


I understand your point.

The failure occurred when the passport officer in UK let a Swedish citizen with a non valid passport into the country. When he left UK to head back to Sweden their problem was solved. 🙂

But it points out one more ‘mistake’ done by the UK border control.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.