Do you remember traveling with your young children and urging them to “hold it” for a while in order to delay all too frequent bathroom stops? Well, travel by air now has its own version of that. I confess to having mixed feelings, but mostly negative, about yesterday’s report of two airliners being shadowed by F-16 fighter jets on 9/11 because cabin crew had observed five passengers spending too much time in the plane’s lavatories. When the planes landed they were parked in remote areas in the airports (Detroit and New York), boarded by SWAT teams, searched, and the five suspects were led away in handcuffs. They were all later released with no charges filed against them. While on one hand I do like to see airline personnel being vigilant just in case a genuine terrorist incident were actually developing, the thought that frequently trips to the bathroom on an airplane can be grounds for extraordinary action by the authorities is somewhat Orwellian. Many people are nervous air travelers and, derived from my own experience on planes, I would observe that one frequently notes a passenger or several passengers who are up and down the aisle all through the flight. I also wonder what the ethnicity of the suspects was – were they guilty of being swarthy AND going to the toilet too often?
I can only speculate on what scrambling fighter planes to accompany a passenger aircraft is actually meant to accomplish. Would they shoot it down? Do they have orders to do so? Who would give such an order and on what basis? There is so much we do not know about what the Department of Homeland Security believes itself empowered to do.