The European flights were delayed because a cocker spaniel got stuck in the lightning. The British Airways flights were delayed because of a new program to require passport searches on hand luggage — and gun owners whose guns are loaded were hauled off the planes.
“The ‘Frontier in Chaos’ Memo goes Out,” explained the headline in the New York Times.
The tag line for the episode: “Why the busiest summer in years has been transformed into a test of airports’ ability to deal with the public.”
The story’s author — a graduate student who had never been anywhere in the world — blasted the experience: “Flying across Europe is an indignity and a joy for me,” he wrote in his post-flight analysis. “I love the freedom of space, the complexity of stories, the incredible focus on planes, the seriousness of execution, the steadfast interest in humanity, the surprising but genuine connection that people make on direct flights.”
I look at the story and the treatment of American airline passengers (especially those who have a gun) with a surprised though, I have to say, a positive attitude — maybe a bit of a mix of trust and resentment. The appreciation of the passengers’ decision to go abroad is tempered by the regret of those who were handcuffed and hauled off planes, held against their will in unsecured locker rooms.
But, put the two together and consider this: Airports around the world are busy. What’s a passenger to do?
I’ve seen virtually every commercial aircraft pilot in my seven decades on the job. How often have I talked with pilots at the gate about the pros and cons of being a pilot or a flight attendant or in the cabin? The pros are the kind of things that made the astronaut Meredith Telling very early in her career: the freedom, excitement and fun of being in the air. The cons are the jet lag, boredom and tension: the concerns about repeated trips, the traffic problems caused by flight attendants and pilots that constantly make the cruise of an airport a test of wills, the potential for personal conflicts that will ever invite litigation in the future and the emotional stress of constant maneuvering that leads to great planes being flown too slowly.
I’ve never known one who felt that air travel was a gratifying, reliable, stress-free experience. The biggest con of all comes from being a pilot or a flight attendant: the idea that somebody might have a heart attack, or a tiny fracture, or a sudden encephalitis, or the unthinkable — a casualty of neglect.
Lots of passengers assume that traveling can be fun. Or, at least, that it should be fun. And it isn’t. And, of course, there is the risk of getting onto a plane.
One of the reasons that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) keeps guns in the sky and other large cargo in boxes is that “transporting firearms through the sky presents grave security, safety and regulatory risks.” Travelers who are flying — flying, by the way, with alcohol, narcotics and nuclear materials — should be prepared for the following consequences:
— If there is a civil rights lawsuit, a passenger who gets off a flight and complains about a checked gun is liable.
— If the gun owner is arrested or has an outstanding warrant and a flight attendant discovers that the owner is a known felon or is a terrorist, the flight attendant could report that information and that information could be passed to law enforcement or security officers and those officers could be called to the point of a plane. In simple terms, if your firearm is loaded with bullets, the paperwork may not allow your firearm to be loaded.
— If a flight attendant is confronted by a gun owner with a warrant from law enforcement authorities, the flight attendant does not have the authority to take the firearm out of the bag.
— If a flight attendant is confronted by a gun owner with a TSA sticker from the airport, the officer will have the authority to confiscate the firearm — unless the passenger is traveling on a tour that requires carrying firearms only in a locked container.
— If a passenger is going through security when there is a gun ban in place, he could become the center of a police investigation. The gun would be seized by police and police would arrest the passenger.
How would the passenger react to that? I’m sure most of