Plagued by Pilot’s Prattle & Police Interrogation

September 25, 2011

in Odds & Ends Stories

I love flying and airplanes. At least I have except for one flight. I was taking an afternoon commuter flight into Chicago’s O’Hare airport from a small town in Illinois. It was the end of a business trip and I was relaxed until the pilot of this relatively small airplane turned on his mike and started talking.

Yes, there were thunderstorms but I was blissfully unaware of apparently how dangerous they can be when flying. That ended abruptly. With a nervous voice, the pilot started speaking. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing difficulty with the thunderstorms that you may have noticed.” It went downhill from there.

With the mike on, we got a stream of consciousness of all his concerns and backup plans. Some of the highlights were, “There is a small airport not too far away but its runway is minimal,” and “We can’t turn back with the fuel we have now,” and my favorite one, “I think we can make it. Probably.” After that comment, somebody must have told him to shut the mike off because that was the last we heard from him.

Naturally, for the first time in my life, I was sitting in the front row of the airplane. Since it was a full flight, there was no possibility of moving to the safer back seats. So, I decided to read a book that I had with me while the passengers around me predictably started freaking out.

Fellow passenger: “Didn’t you hear what he said!”

Me: “Yes.”

Fellow passenger: “How can your read now!”

Me: “We’ll be fine.”

Fellow passenger: “But … ”

Me: “We’ll be fine.”

Fellow passenger: Picked up a magazine and joined me reading.

After all that drama, we land only a few minutes late and the connecting flight on the other side of O’Hare. I raced across the huge airport and reached the correct hub. I slipped into the security line behind a tall man with long hair and a leather jacket. This was when the security was done separately for each hub instead of for the entire departure area. Out of nowhere, a gazillion security and police officers descended on the man in front of me. He had handcuffs in his carry-on.

He argued at full volume with them and told them that he was an undercover cop and had the right to carry handcuffs on an airplane. Well, the federal cops argue back and say they want to see his identification. He refuses to give it to them. After about 6 or 7 of them surround him, he is walked off to an “interview room.” I shake my head and look at my watch; I still have enough time to make the connecting flight.

I move to put my stuff on the belt and officers remove everything. Six foot six inch officer says politely, “Please come with us.” I look at him and say, “Huh?” Not such a brilliant response but it had already been a long day. Officer repeats it slowly, “Please come with us.” My brain clicks on and I finally reply, “Yes sir.” See, working with the military does pay off!

So, I ended up in an interview room and they started asking me questions ranging from questions about why I’m traveling that day, then narrowing down to increasingly detailed ones about what I had packed in my luggage. I keep looking at my watch and finally say, “Look, keep my luggage and send it to me when you are done with it. I trust you guys. Just let me have my keys and wallet. I’m going to miss my flight!” The guy in a suit (FBI?) must have realized that I had no idea what was going on.

Suit guy: “The plane isn’t going anywhere. We haven’t been able to verify the other passenger’s story yet. Then, he paused, “You are being questioned because terrorists often use one person to create a distraction so the person behind them can slip through unquestioned.”

Me: “Oh”

So, I ended up finally being allowed to rejoin the other passengers who avoided me for the rest of our time together. They did stare though. Once they had gone through all the luggage and reloaded the airplane, we were allowed to board an hour or so later. I ended up with a row to myself on the airplane. Three flight attendants sat on the opposite row. That was the first time that I bought a hard liquor drink from a flight attendant on an airplane.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

DSD September 27, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Putting something behind your ear will also get the TSA very interested.
On my last trip to see my Mother, I had intended on getting all checked in, then popping out to have a smoke before going through security. So I pulled out a cigarette out and stuck it behind my ear while I was getting all my crap settled into its proper places. Then after checking in I got so preoccupied with getting a jar of cattapillars through security (my 3 year old had some at preschool and I found some Swallow-tail catapillars munching on Mom's plants, so I grabbed some for him) that I forgot to go have my smoke first. After handing over the jar to be hand inspected (it was definately a first for these folks), but before I went through the metal detectors, the TAS guy politely asked me to run the cigarette through the X-ray with my other stuff. "Because the TSA has given specific instructions to watch for pens, cigarettes, etc. stuck behind people's ears. It's just too easy to conceal something there."


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