What I do for my firm's international operations!!
It happened again. Remember how I told you all the story of how, when I went to the
short December meeting in Paris for a one-day meeting I found myself at the American Airlines section in the company
of Richard Ried, the guy who tried to light his shoe? Happily, I did not know it at the time. Well, Saturday when I was returning
from Milan and changing planes at Heathrow, I found myself on American Airlines flight 47 to Chicago. I was comfortably in
my seat on a very overbooked flight, when a group of 20 young men, of apparently Middle Eastern origin, boarded the flight
and marched together, about ten in each aisle, to coach. Therein followed a long period when we got confusing announcements
from the captain about delays due to the overbooking situation and then the need for a new crew, since the overbooking delays
had taken certain crew members past their legal work hours. After further delays, the two security officials who had
checked us in boarded the plane and peacefully escorted out all 20 young men. Everything was very disciplined.
There was a vague announcement about certain of the passengers having documentation issues. Then followed a tortured process
of asking us all to return to our originally assigned seats for a seat check. Then the two security officials did a thorough
check of all the areas where the 20 had sat, and they verified that any stowed carry-ons belonged to a passenger still on
the flight. We took off 2-1/2 hours late, without further explanation.
We passengers, of course, all talked among themselves. What I learned from a
passenger sitting ahead of me near the galley was that one or more crew members had refused to fly with the group of 20. The
pilot wanted to proceed and requested another crew. He agreed, however, that the documentation of the 20 should be rechecked.
Lo and behold, they were all Pakistani citizens and, according to the report I heard, the only paper explaining the purpose
of their visit was a hand-written note stating that their intention was to obtain "military training" in the US. This
was totally inadequate, so they were asked to leave, which they did without objection.
Were we in any danger? Who knows. Were they on an official mission and properly on
board that flight? Who knows. Was I disturbed that 20 people made it on an airplane to the US with paperwork that later proved
to be insufficient? Yes, of course. On the way out of the airplane, I asked the pursar if the authorities were involved with
what had happened, and she said, yes they were ... very much. I did see all the flight attendants writing out personal
statements during the flight, which I found reassuring.
My family has asked me since what it was like to spend the next eight hours or so
on that flight. Actually, it went by very quickly because all the passengers found themselves talking to each other and comparing
Note: Over a week later, CNN published an explanation:
CNN.COM-U.S., U.S. Apologizes
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