When a Bagel Is a National Security Threat

The other day, we told you about how a spilled coffee was mistaken for a hijacking threat.

Today we bring you … the “suspicious” bagel.

A Florida professor was arrested and removed from a plane Monday after his fellow passengers alerted crew members they thought he had a suspicious package in the overhead compartment.

That “suspicious package” turned out to be keys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat.

While this whole thing made me chuckle, the man was “cuffed” and “charged with interfering with the operation of an aircraft,” according to the report. And the NBC Miami similarly notes that other innocent passengers have recently had action taken against them after other fliers reported them for such nefarious behaviors as using the bathroom too often or “just being annoying.”

Add this to the ongoing backlash against the TSA’s invasive search protocols — best satirized by The New Yorker — and it’s safe to say that many people are growing increasingly leery of current airport/airline security. It’s obviously a tough balance to strike and has me once again thinking How Much Airport Security Is Too Much?

Then again, maybe this guy should have been arrested.

We all know that any bagel that isn’t a New York bagel should be illegal.

I’m scared just looking at it.

Coffee and Flying and Hijacking, Oh My

What happens when a pilot spills his coffee? Apparently the plane thinks it is being hijacked. (via Gadling)

A pilot’s spilled coffee accidentally triggered a hijacking alert and caused a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany, to make an unscheduled stop in Canada.

A Transport Canada report said United Flight 940 was diverted to Toronto late Monday and landed safely at Pearson International Airport. In a twist reminiscent of the plot of the 1964 Glenn Ford movie ‘Fate Is the Hunter’, the coffee spill caused distress signals to go out, including code 7500, which means hijacking or unlawful interference.

I suppose the only lesson here is that if you spill something, say something.

How Much Airport Security Is Too Much?

Martin Broughton, the chairman of British Airways, has had it up to here with the horse-and-pony show of airport security requirements required for all European flights headed to the United States.

“America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do,” Broughton said in comments quoted by the Financial Times and confirmed by British Airways.

“We shouldn’t stand for that. We should say, ‘We’ll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential.'”

Specifically, he was referring to shoe and laptop removal requirements — “redundant” practices he had a few other choice phrases for.

Chairman Martin Broughton accused the U.S. of demanding “completely redundant” security checks at airports, such as removing shoes and separate examinations of laptop computers.
Europe should not have to “kowtow to the Americans every time they want something done” to beef up security on U.S.-bound flights, Broughton said.

Chairman Martin Broughton accused the U.S. of demanding “completely redundant” security checks at airports, such as removing shoes and separate examinations of laptop computers.

Europe should not have to “kowtow to the Americans every time they want something done” to beef up security on U.S.-bound flights, Broughton said.

He won support Wednesday from the owner of Heathrow airport and the British pilots’ union as well as several European airlines and security experts on both sides of the Atlantic.

It isn’t just European pilots who are on his side. Many of the major carriers across the pond gave their seals of approval to Broughton’s frustration.

security experts and several European airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, Iberia and Finnair, welcomed Broughton’s comments, saying it was time to reevaluate the many layers of time-consuming airport security.

“We need to keep passengers safe, but there’s also a whole bunch of security rules that could be eased out,” said Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst in London.

The requirement to remove shoes for screening, for example, was “the knee-jerk reaction after Richard Reid.” The newest metal detectors would sense any metal such as wiring in shoes, he contended.

Many of the security rules are in place because of history rather than real risk, agreed Todd Curtis, a Seattle-based security expert at airsafe.com.

As with all risk management decisions — and, at its core, that’s what all security comes down to — Curtis’ point is the issue at hand: how do you ensure that commercial airlines can be as safe as possible but at the same time not impose onerous safeguards that impair their ability to succeed as commercial ventures?

The safest way to make sure no planes explode would be to ban air travel. No planes would ever be hijacked again. Also, oh yeah, no one would ever make another dime in the airline industry and we would all be doing a lot more driving.

The other extreme would be to have no security at all. There would be no lines to wait in before you board. No privacy-invading x-ray screening. The whole process of flying would be streamlined and the airport would become an ideal environment to make money from consumers. But then planes would likely be dropping out of the sky every few weeks.

There needs to be a balance.

And with a sensitive, hot-button issue like airport security — which is essentially the lynchpin of America’s “domestic war on terror” — the pendulum between safety and convenience will likely always sway along with the news. The more terrorist plots we see, particularly if ever there is another, major successful event, the more security we will likely see. The fewer events we hear about, the more complacency will set in and the more people will covet convenience.

Apparently some European heads of industry think the pendulum has swung too far in direction of safety — or more accurately, they think the “for-show” protocols that were once mere annoyances have turned into business-harming problems that need to be fixed.

Time can do that.

In related news, a humorous new website called Fun With TSA that I bet Broughton would enjoy is poking fun at some proposed, in-flight TSA safety restrictions. Apparently the aviation watchdog has suggested that it may be wise to not allow passengers to “leave your seat during the last hour of your flight, use electronic devices, or have anything at all on your lap.”

And while that would indeed be very annoying, here are two of their suggestions on fun ways you can pass the time during the last hour. There are eight other ideas if you click through to the Fun With TSA site.


Be the person on your flight to suddenly shout out “Marco!” during that last hour when others are looking for things to do.  It might take a few tries, but eventually someone somewhere on the plane will respond with a “Polo!” if for no other reason than to shut you up.  Entertainment achieved.


This can be every bit as much fun as when people do “the wave” at a stadium, only there will be no standing up here for obvious reasons.  Instead, simply power on your overhead light, wait for the people in front of you to power on theirs, then turn yours off.  A truly beautiful spectacle once it gets going.

Get Your Popcorn Ready — Upcoming Documentary Explores the History of the TSA

Though it probably won’t break any of Avatar‘s box office records, a new documentary from “retired aviation publisher” Fred Gevalt will document the history of the watchdog that protects our friendly skies. This in-depth look at the  Transportation Security Authority (TSA) is called Please Remove Your Shoes and comes out on July 1, although Gevalt will be self-distributing, so that doesn’t necessarily bode well for it being an enthralling expose’ — nor something that will be able to find in your local theater.

Here’s how Speakeasy, a Wall Street Journal blog, characterized Fred Gevalt’s Please Remove Your Shoes.

Thee final production, which Gevalt is self distributing July 1, asks viewers to evaluate if the TSA has truly made flying the friendly skies any safer post 9/11, and features interviews with Congressmen James Oberstar and John Mica (both of whom are on the Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure), as well as a number of former TSA and FAA employees. Gevalt adds that it wasn’t easy finding enough subjects to speak about their relationship with the TSA on the record, but as one interview beget another, “the business of access became less difficult.”

Even if it doesn’t make your local cineplex, it will presumably at least make it to the Netflix circuit eventually, so look for this one starting next month if airline security is something that strikes your fancy.


A cartoon lampooning TSA policies, courtesy of the brilliant xkcd.