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August 09, 2005

Profile Or Die: PC Random Searches Will Get Us All Dead

Thanks to Megan for this chilling report about that LA-to-London flight that was diverted recently:

The three Pakistani passengers, two in BC (business class) seats (8A and 14D) and one in economy, got our attention before takeoff with self upgrading, moving about the plane, changing seats several times and asking the crew about our layover, where we stayed, etc. We basically ignored them and wrote them off as bothersome.

During the bar service, two of the guys kept drinking a lot, and asking for refills before we got two rows away. Now we wrote them off as obnoxious, as well as annoying. We cut down the drinks to the guy in BC who wanted more scotch and wine with dinner.

After the meal service, the guy in 8A, who hadn't said a word, got up and went to 14D and spoke with him for 10 minutes. We didn't even know they knew each other as they had no prior contact.

The F/As (flight attendants) in economy were concerned over the behavior of the economy passenger and asked for a name check. The cockpit got back to us to let us know all had gone through secondary clearance in LAX and were all ticketed to Islamabad, Pakistan.

All the guys kept going to the bathroom and now we were checking the loos every time they came out. After 8A spoke with 14D, he (14D) went to economy and went straight to the overhead in 32CDE, took out a briefcase and brought it back to his BC seat. 32E was where the economy passenger was originally seated, but he had moved to 31G on the aisle. All the F/As were keeping an eye on these three and every time we would casually look at them, they were staring at us, watching everything we were doing.

The economy guy went to the back galley and kept the duty free sellers busy by asking to see everything and having them open several items to the point where one of them wrote on a piece of paper to another F/A, "He's distracting us, see what's happening in the cabin"....

I was communicating all this information to the cockpit, as well as our concerns. I don't think they took it as seriously as we did. That was until the economy guy went to the F/As in the back and asked them if we had been up in the air for 3 1/2 hours yet. He kept asking when 3 1/2 hours would be. At the same time, the 14D guy went up to the BC F/As and asked if we'd been flying 3, 3 1/2 or 4 hours yet.

Now most passengers ask how much longer we have to go and not if we've been flying a specific time, and we figured with all their drinking, they didn't want to know the time so they could face Mecca for their prayers.

They diverted to Boston for an early landing, and a SWAT team came aboard to detain the suspicious passengers.

By the time we got to the hotel, we were already on the news, and several hours later, we heard the passengers were interviewed, cleared and released. The FBI told me they felt they were on a test run surveillance flight, observing and watching our routine and looking for weaknesses in our security. All the authorities reassured us we did the right thing and that was backed up by the passengers who thanked us and said that they were so glad we watching out for their well being. I think as F/As, we sense when something just isn't right, and this flight had too many small incidents that didn't add up, and thankfully, we acted on our feelings.

Without profiling, the odd questions about how much time the plane had been in the air would have simply been ignored. It was the odd behavior, plus the men's ethnic background, that alerted the flight crew.

It's time to stop pretending that we shouldn't, and already don't, do this. Profiling is open to possible abuse, but it's even more likely to be abused when there are no guidelines about it and the state continues to maintain an official, bullshit line that it is illegal. That just means that people are expected to be "vigiliant" but cannot employ basic common sense to guide their vigilance, and it encourages those who actually use common sense to just lie to the authorities about it.

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posted by Ace at 02:04 PM

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