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NW 253 Redux

[ 0 ] December 30, 2009 |

Rob covers most of the points on 253 that I would have touched upon (as well as some I hadn’t considered), but there are a few I want to add. First, as a preface, I’ve flown AMS-DTW six or eight times, and been on that very flight, and I’m happy to report that this experience doesn’t affect my observation or the validity of my opinion (which is always questionable at any rate).

My instinct when hearing about it was “it’s about time”. As Jeff Fecke comments to Rob’s post, “you’re 99% safe everywhere, but you’re not 100% safe anywhere.” Probability suggest that this will happen, and it will happen again, and if this is the best that they can do, we’re in pretty good shape overall. When one considers the sheer number of passenger / flights that occur daily, let alone annually, and by my (possibly unreliable) count there have only been three incidents of note on US or US-bound carriers post 9/11 (the shoe bomber, the British liquid bombers, and Detroit guy) I am not terribly concerned. Two amateur attempts, and one that MI-5 were all over.
Additionally, as commenter Hanspeter points out, this was not a TSA fault:

“Lagos airport technically passes some standard level of security competency, which is why planes leaving there are allowed to land here. Amsterdam airport also screwed the pooch, though, since that airport is supposed to be very good at security.”

Schiphol Amsterdam indeed has excellent security; even pre-9/11, flying an American carrier from AMS to wherever in the US (typically NW) involved an additional “interview” at the gate for every passenger (they ask for all manner of ID, including frequent flyer membership cards, thumb through your passport and inquire about certain trips, etc.); post 9/11, they added an additional security checkpoint at every gate for American-bound US carriers. (Oddly enough, these measures didn’t apply to KLM flights to the US). However, I’m not sure how Schiphol screwed the pooch; if the technology to stop this guy wasn’t installed, it wasn’t installed.

Furthermore, to my knowledge there are no direct flights from Nigeria to the US, because security is not up to standard. (UPDATE: a commenter points out that Delta fly a couple direct flights between Lagos and the US).
Lagos to Amsterdam was a KLM flight. Indeed, to my knowledge passengers connecting through AMS from Lagos have to go through an additional layer of security because Nigeria security is not considered adequate by the EU. If a pooch was screwed here, it wasn’t that security at Schiphol allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board the DTW flight, rather it was a simple old fashioned intelligence failure.
My rather sanguine attitude expressed above does not place me in the ‘don’t violate my privacy dammit’ camp, however. I have no problem that Schiphol is installing the very machines that may have prevented the Detroit thing; I’m comfortable with some random stranger noting that I’m probably carrying around ten post-holiday extra pounds than I should be. As AMS is one of my primary transit hubs (indeed, my flights back to England in early January take me through Schiphol) I’m certain to experience this new technology in any event.
But I’m not going to freak out about the Detroit thing. It may have been professionally conceived, but it was rank amateur in execution. If this is the best that they can do given our widely assailed security vulnerabilities, I’m fairly relaxed about it.

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