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What the Airlines Are Doing to Protect You

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Cockpit Security

TO ADAPT TO NEW SECURITY NEEDS, AIRLINES have placed strong steel bars across the cockpit side of access doors. The FAA has given emergency design approval for such bars. Such changes would generally take up to a year. However, although there are over 7000 airliners in the United States it took only about 30 days to make such emergency installations on all U.S. aircraft. That was unbelievably fast. The best defense an airline can offer against a hijacking while an aircraft is in the air is an impregnable cockpit door. The cockpit doors, which were initially designed as vital breakaway doors for immediate access to the crew in the cockpit in case of an emergency, are being redesigned. The two major airliner manufacturers— Boeing and Airbus—plus other companies are rushing permanent designs for doors that can withstand bullets, bullies, and bumping. The doors will be installed so hinges can’t be broken off with anything less than a strong crowbar, which would take time. There was talk of confiscating from flight attendants keys to the cockpit door. But all door locks for Boeing aircraft worldwide use the same key and thousands have been issued over the years making that solution impractical. Instead new special tumblers with different keys are being installed in all cockpit doors. Only pilots will have keys— not flight attendants. Other techniques are being considered as well. At El Al the door can only be operated from the inside by a pilot pressing a button, which controls an electronic lock release. So it doesn’t matter whether anyone has a key or not. No key will work in flight. Similar ideas are being considered by some U.S. airlines.

Pilot and Crew Training

Rules airlines lived by since the first hijackings are obsolete in the twenty-first century. The idea of not confronting hijackers but instead making an effort to win their confdence to get the aircraft safely on the ground no long applies. U.S. pilots will need to be mentally reconditioned in how they respond to any hijacker threat against a crewmember or passenger. If word is communicated to the pilot in the cockpit, probably through an interphone, that the hijackers are about to kill a flight attendant or passenger unless he lets them have access to the cockpit, he’ll just have to bite his lip and respond, “Go ahead, that’s okay with me, but you’re not getting in the cockpit.” That’s exactly the mindset and attitude of every El Al pilot and one of the contributing reasons that the airline hasn’t had a hijacking since 1968 in spite of being a highthreat target. Some airlines are also experimenting with self-defense training, especially for flight attendants. There are some simple self defense techniques that can be learned without a person’s becoming a karate black belt.

Carry-Ons

There are some arguments about limiting all carry-ons to a single purse or briefcase in an effort to ease the workload at security checkpoints and to prevent smuggling of weapons. This limitation has several drawbacks: Most passengers want some carry-on with them so that they can do work on long trips. They want to supervise valuables like cameras, jewelry, computers, and other such items not covered by airline insurance if checked. In addition, lack of belly space in some airliners to handle all the carry-on baggage and the potential of theft by baggage handlers and breakage of fragile items is another concern. These concerns are probably the realistic reasons the FAA still allows one purse or briefcase and one other piece of carry-on luggage that will fit into the overhead rack or under your seat. It seems to be a workable compromise.

Preflight Checks

Airlines are also doing daily cabin searches for contraband or anything that could be smuggled aboard the aircraft and used as a weapon. An additional ID check prior to boarding is being done by most airlines as well as a secondary random carry-on bag search. Prior to push back from the gate most airlines have done or do an instant FBI computerized check of passenger names. No one is allowed on board whose name appears on suspected terrorist lists provided by the FBI. Currently there are more than 1000 names on the list. The FBI has relaxed old rules about sharing such information with the airlines. There is now a cooperative spirit. All metal eating utensils in airport restaurants have been replaced by plastic utensils.

In-Flight Procedures

Some airlines are prohibiting passengers from forming lines to wait for the forward lavatories. Passengers must either go for the rear bathroom or wait in their seats until there is no line. The idea is to limit traffic around the cockpit area. Some individual pilots and flight attendants have even taken it upon themselves to prohibit passengers from using the front bathrooms during flights. The policy for flights at Reagan National Airport is even tougher. Passengers are prohibited from leaving their seats for 30 minutes after takeoff or for 30 minutes before landing at the Washington, D.C. airport. Airlines are leaving curtains or dividers between cabin classes open to allow for unobstructed view by all in the aircraft. Seat belt signs are being strictly enforced. Cabin crews are working more closely together than ever to facilitate immediate 33 reporting of suspicious activities to other crewmembers. Any preflight beverage service during the boarding process is being suspended to allow flight attendants to focus on passenger boarding. Airlines are analyzing how to prevent deactivating of emergency radio and radar signals in the cockpit that sound an alarm of a hijacking to a ground station. All airlines are urging passengers to keep their seat belts fastened throughout the flight. One reason is that any final desperate aircraft maneuvering effort by pilots to throw hijackers off balance to prevent a hijacking could, of course, be fatal to anyone standing or sitting without a seat belt fastened. There is some talk of installing cameras that will continuously video the cabin, with a monitor in the cockpit. But where to place the monitor in the cockpit and how to string the necessary wiring are complicating factors.

Cargo Limitations

No cargo or mail is being transported except:

1. Human remains, organs, and blood and tissue, in accordance with specific procedure spelled out by the FAA.

2. U.S. mail, which may only be transported after obtaining the following written certification from the tendering official: “The Postal Service certifies that no mail parcels sixteen ounces and over are being tendered to the accepting passenger air carrier.”

3. Official U.S. diplomatic mail and pouches.

4. Material classified in the interest of national security by the U.S. government.

5. Cargo received from known shippers.

6. Cargo received from FAA-approved indirect Air Carriers not identified as originating from an unknown shipper.

7. Cargo received from another air carrier subject to security directives or a foreign air carrier with a security program approved by the FAA.

Profiling System

The new profiling system builds on a littlepublicized system that has been widely employed by the nation’s airlines for the past four years. It is known as the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS. Run by the FAA, CAPPS was created after the midair explosion of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound in 1996, which was ultimately ruled an accident. CAPPS uses basic data disclosed by travelers when they reserve and buy tickets—such as their names, addresses, and how and when they paid—to look for patterns that could point to terrorism