Saturday, March 15, 2014

Missing Flight MH370 - Why Airline Security Should Never Be the Same

First appeared on Blogcritics.

air 5
As we continue to get additional and more confounding news regarding missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370, there has to be an understanding that something definitely went wrong in the air. More importantly, before the plane even took off, something definitely went wrong on the ground.

At this point anyone who travels by air either frequently or even once and a while should be thinking that what we are doing in the name of airline security has to change. Even if you have stood in line longer than you may have wanted to, been annoyed by the intrusion into your carry-on, or been annoyed about taking off your shoes, something like this missing plane only magnifies the importance of what is being done. Of course, even more can and should be done in light of MH370.

air 1
Right now land, air, and sea searches have come up with nothing as to the location of the plane. It has taken days and days for  Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, to announce that the actions to divert the plane were “deliberate.” Most everyone else knew this almost from the start, but does the reluctance to acknowledge this fact have to do with incompetence or something more nefarious? Have Malaysian officials purposely obfuscated the information we have received because they know more than they are telling the world?

air 2
We have heard reports that law enforcement in that country only had gone to the home of the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah (53) to search it and confiscate any pertinent information such as files or computers after Razak’s announcement. Why wasn’t this the first step considering the expertise of the pilots may have been necessary in an elaborate plot to throw suspicion to possible hijackers, who it would seem have little chance of knowing how to fly a complicated piece of machinery like a 777. As of this writing, co-pilot Fariq Ab Hamid’s home has not been searched. Again, we must wonder why not?

air 4Intense scrutiny has to turn to the crew and every passenger aboard that flight. Every one of them has a story, and while we want to believe that they are all innocent victims, it is obvious that someone on board has acted to change the course of the airliner, turn off the tracking devices, and take over the plane with intent to either purposely crash it or divert it to a remote location. If the latter is the case, one must assume the rest of those passengers are now hostages and the plane itself may be used in some other plan similar to 9-11.

While not absolving the pilots, there also has been discussion of a “struggle” for control of the plane, noting that the variations in height of the plane (going up to 45,000 feet and then dropping precipitously to 23,000 feet) may have indicated an altercation, as well as the ensuing zigzagging of the plane. It has also been suggested that perhaps this was an inexperienced pilot’s attempt to gain control of the plane or possibly a plot of confuse radar tracking.

All of this provides no answers as the investigation continues, but the reality is that airline security and travel should never be the same after MH370. All that waiting in line, the intrusion into baggage, and the removal of shoes is just the tip of the iceberg. There has to be an elevation of scrutiny of every passenger and crew member of every flight. I know this sounds overwhelming, but no one should be able to step onto a plane unless he or she has been thoroughly investigated as to purpose of flight, occupation, and whereabouts while in the country of origin. In short, massive amounts of information need to be compiled through background checks and any other means to determine true identities and connections to dubious enterprises.

I know this sounds rather Orwellian, but perhaps that is what is necessary in 2014 to prevent a disaster from happening. As of now MH370’s fate is unknown, but it may yet be involved in an attack or some other plan that could become a disaster. With the security measures in place after 9-11, it was once said that terrorists were baffled as to how to get planes to use as weapons again. Now, it seems, they may have found a way to do that.

It is necessary and compelling for aviation and security agencies to begin sharing data, to work with national and international organizations to cross check passengers and to feed pertinent and up to date information to agents at airports who can stop potentially dangerous passengers at check-in. Ideally, a manifest for every flight should be scrutinized well before the plane ever pulls up to the boarding gate, but the reality of plane travel is that sometimes people do buy tickets at the last minute or switch to alternate flights because of delays in travel plans. This means that vigilance has to be heightened and incessant until the second that plane door is closed for takeoff.

Obviously, there is a need for some kind of travel document beyond a passport that includes biological coding, facial recognition, or some kind of microchip to verify identity. As we know, two Iranian passengers on Flight MH370 boarded with stolen passports. That may indicate the inadequacy of security in Kuala Lumpur, but it also calls into question the antiquated nature of current passports and the need for much more reliable and high-tech documentation for all passengers.

This kind of thing does irk some frequent fliers who rationalize that they should not be subject to this kind of scrutiny, but I bet that every one of the innocent passengers on Flight MH370 now wishes that more intense measures were in place before takeoff. There will also be those voices of indignation about violations of personal freedom, but none of us should object to the most stringent measures possible being in place, especially as we board planes and are completely at the mercy of the airline and security at the airport where we embark.

This situation should make us so uncomfortable and nervous that we push for changes in airline security that are assiduous and immediate. Having recently seen Non-Stop with Liam Neeson, I realize the wisdom of having air marshals or other security personnel aboard every aircraft. When something like this occurs in the air, nothing anyone has done on the ground will stop a takeover of a plane, but a trained person on board can make a difference.

air 3I do hope that this situation can be resolved and that all the passengers are safe somewhere. Their families in Beijing and elsewhere are praying and hoping for a miracle. While a hijacking of a plane may not usually be seen as miraculous, it is infinitely more hopeful than believing the plane is at the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

As I was watching the TV coverage last evening, I was reminded of the Lost TV series and how that the MH370 passengers are similarly “lost” as of now. As in that show, each person has someone who loves him or her and wants a safe return. Not knowing is definitely much more difficult, and we have to wonder how long this will go on. Of course, terrorists have no regard for people who are hurting and grieving because that is part of their game plan.

New Yorkers used to say “Never again” after 9-11, but this has an eerie feel to it that should make us all extremely nervous and worried. If nothing else, MH370 should cause a resurgence of “Never again” in reference to a plane being hijacked or crashed. We need to express outrage and press our elected officials to push for greater security immediately, so that “never again” will be realized as nevermore.

Photo credits: european pressphotoagency; getty images; ap; office of pm Malaysia; national geographic

No comments: