The events in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 have forever turned the world onto the benefits of being safe and secure in the skies.
Anyone who travels must make this issue first on their list. We'll uncover the best methods to ensure that the biggest problem you'll ever have to worry about on a flight is how to survive eating what the airlines laughingly refer to as 'food'.
Quickly put, we will cover:
Air Security - What Must Be Done
How You Can Protect Yourself
At the Airport
Passenger Safety Information
A Safe Trip Abroad
The Weapons of Choice for Terrorists
How important this issue is can be seen by events that occurred even after the horrors of that September morning in America. In late September of 2001, four friends were able to fly into the UK's Gatwick Airport with a nice little assortment of weapons in their luggage.
English Customs officials searching the men's bags found they possessed a decent collection of combat knives, stun guns and mace spray.
"Yet these cases had been checked in at Orlando Sandford Airport in Florida and placed in the hold of an American Trans Air flight," BBC News was understandably quick to report.
And of course, US citizens remember the "unthinkable" episode at Chicago's O'Hare Airport when Subash Bahadur Gurung was nearly allowed to board a plane while in possession of an arsenal of weapons, despite being caught just minutes earlier carrying two knives through a metal detector. Though the knives were confiscated, Gurung was for some reason allowed to continue through the checkpoint and, by all accounts, was about to board a United Airlines plane to Nebraska (two of the four planes hijacked on September 11th, 2001 were United Airlines planes). It was only at the departure gate that a random check of his hand luggage by airline staff - who are given the discretion to search, question, or even refuse to take a passenger onto the aircraft - found his other weapons: seven more knives, pepper spray and a stun gun.
Argenbright Security, a unit of Britain's Securicor PLC and the principal air security firm used by United at the time, was ordered after its O'Hare incident to conduct background checks on all its workers, something it had failed to do before all the extra concern for air safety. It had a long history of hiring formerly convicted criminals to do baggage checks. The company "was already on probation for serious security violations" at the Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, "for which it paid $2.3 million in fines . . . and several managers went to jail," according to a story in the Washington Post. Argenbright inspectors at various US hubs had further stated to reporters that their 'training' for the job had sometimes consisted of little more than watching a single 45-minute videotape on security procedures.
Argenbright has since unwittingly become the poster boy for those insisting that that kind of 'airline security' in the US cannot continue, or be allowed to resurface ever again. Argenbright was, after all, also in charge of security at the Boston airport where several hijackers carrying makeshift weapons (and some of whom may have already been known and listed as potential terrorists by the feds) were allowed to get on the two planes that later slammed into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City.
Psst, Americans, want to know a little secret? Government officials knew all along that the nation's airport baggage screening system had long been "bad and getting worse," to quote a story published by the New York Times in late November 2001.
Screeners missed 20 percent of the clear images of bombs or guns ran through baggage screening machines during security tests back in the late 1980s. Their performance has only slipped since, though officials won't say by how much: "the figure has since been designated sensitive security information," according to the Times, a pretty reliable newspaper on these kinds of things.
Unlike Europe, where airport security is more often seen as a government responsibility, pay and conditions at US airports for security staff have long been seen by the rest of the world as poor, especially after the aviation industry was deregulated by President Reagan in the 1980s. Attempts to tighten up the rules were blocked again and again by concentrated lobbying from the airlines themselves, which have to pay for their own baggage security.
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That's what eventually led to such outsourced security firms as Argenbright handling the baggage checks. But since airlines generally awarded contracts to the lowest bidders, firms like Argenbright made up the difference by paying screeners minimum wages, which made it hard for them to attract and retain good workers, and by spending almost nothing on what it termed 'security training'.
After the air security bill became law on November 15th, 2001, the federal government began taking control of airport baggage screenings, which will be completely under federal authority by the end of 2002. The Transportation Department may also deploy law enforcement to bolster airport perimeter and access security.
The feds will screen all commercial airline baggage until 2005 with the exception of five airports, of five different sizes, that volunteer for a program meant to test different screening approaches.
After that, airports that meet the new strict federal standards will have the option of using local law enforcement officials or private security firms like Argenbright for its baggage screening once again.
The law also ensures that armed air marshals will be on all commercial flights, and there will be both a required background check for all ground-support personnel and much tighter security at checkpoints and airport perimeters. Also, all passengers must now present photo identification to ticket takers before they are allowed to board their flights.
There's more to be done, though. As of December 2001, foreign countries are not required to share information with the US about those landing on American shores; in fact, the State Department's web site says that only three nations are voluntarily providing information on those coming to the States.
And the new Transportation Security Administration, created for the sole purpose of overseeing US air security, is racing to begin screening all checked baggage on domestic flights for weapons and explosives by January 2002. Amazingly, before that fewer than 10 percent of airline baggage was screened, and the majority of the 420 US airports flying commercial flights did not have the scanning machines to do the job. Until they can be manufactured screeners will check things out by hand.
The scanning machines are actually more similar to medical CAT scans than X-ray machines. They will aid greatly in the detection of explosives and plastic guns, and are to be in all commercial airports within a year. But with only two US companies - InVision and L-3 Communications - currently certified to make such scanners, it will be a tough order to fill.
Another option, not apparently being thought of by the US, is to use detection scanners similar to the ones made by the British firm QinetiQ, the public-private partnership which calls itself "Europe's largest science and technology organization," and which had for years shouldered much of the work of the British Defense Evaluation and Research Agency. The company's scanner detects a host of objects missed by metal detectors.
Its Millimeter Wave Camera will find weapons like the ceramic knives believed to have been used by some of the hijackers involved in the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks on America. It works by detecting naturally occurring radiation as it reflects off different objects. Knives or guns hidden in clothing or baggage appear on the scanner's display as distinct illuminated shapes.
The device can also detect a person's body shape, thereby showing up concealed objects, and can cope with three times more passengers than conventional scanners.
The system has already been tested at Eurotunnel's Calais terminal, where it has been used to uncover asylum seekers hiding in the back of trucks. And that's not all; the QinetiQ system, unlike its US cousins, can also be designed to pick up suspicious passengers before they board planes by checking identification details against a database of suspects.
Called Border Guard and developed by a company called Imaging Automation, when the database is added to the QinetiQ system it will actually validate a person's photo ID, passport, etc. as soon as it is read. Such a system can therefore be used to immediately spot people using fake identification, passengers with a history of air rage, and criminals wanted by the police or the FBI. It would make it "very unlikely" that anyone using falsified papers or wanted by authorities could make it onto a commercial aircraft, according to experts.
Because the system is automated, it would also make for faster security checks, which would benefit everybody. The system could be adapted to target different types of passengers as the need calls for it and would not leave taxpayers with a hefty bill. Many add such a system would be self-financing within a couple years of implementation.
Many experts have already said the full capabilities of the system, if used in US airports, would be more effective than introducing practically any other new security measure, such as armed air marshals or extra cockpit security.
Hopefully the US will take these strengths into consideration and develop something similar to the Border Guard database, which would allow authorities to nab potential hijackers before they have a chance to strike, and will make the sharing of airline passenger information compulsory for all nations wishing to do business with the US.
You have more power here than you might think. A little bit of bitching to your government and business representatives can go a long way. There's no need to take to the streets though; a simple letter here and there can work wonders. Remember, after 2005 private firms like Argenbright can begin pushing for airline security contracts again - and if there's anything that's as strong as bitching, it's the almighty dollar of the big airlines, which worked to keep government officials from cracking the whip for years as the carriers sometimes employed the sloppiest security firms for the cheapest dollar.
Private firms getting back into the airline security business could create a 'hit-and-miss' air security at US airports, with some employing government or reliable private screeners, and others employing agencies that could conceivably become as poor as Argenbright once was.
So how do we know if the airline has a security system in place that we can trust? Like all consumer matters, be prepared to do a little snooping. If you're considering a flight to a destination but feel unsure about security, you may want to check out this page on the FAA's website. It reports some safety violations leveled against companies for the last few years (the current year is immediately displayed; earlier periods can be accessed by links at the bottom of the FAA page).
The records, put out as press releases, are far from comprehensive however. As FAA press spokesperson Rebecca Trexler told S.O.S., the punishments for lax security are traditionally given out as civil penalties against an airline during a nationwide investigation of the air carrier, rather than against any security firms hired by the airline. This made it very tough for the public to discover which air security firms had a poor performance record. The violations are also only officially reported by the FAA if the total penalties incurred during an investigation run in excess of $50,000; many violations can therefore go unreported by the agency.
According to Ms. Trexler, there is currently no official publication or website fully chronicling air security mistakes.
The FAA site does give a good record of which airline flying from which airport has the worst security problems, which could help you make something of an informed choice about the safest carrier in your area. But the info is hardly current. These violations aren't officially reported by the FAA until a full year after the problem is discovered, "to avoid divulging potential vulnerabilities in the aviation system, " according to the FAA site.
But as Ms. Trexler is quick to point out, "The private security firms are being replaced now by government personnel. Those firms are moving on to provide security for nuclear plants and such things, and the government will be taking care of air security for a while. It's really impossible to tell what role the private firms will play in the future of air security (after 2005), but that may not be an issue anymore."
In truth, the government security won't be fully in place until December 2002, and some private security companies are probably bound to show up at the baggage check again after 2005. Keep the FAA page in mind if private companies are taking care of baggage at your airport. It will at least give you an idea of which airlines have historically had trouble at which hubs.
When you are preparing for your trip, remember to pack smart and pack safe. This section is taken principally from reports by the Department of Transportation and the FAA detailing the best ways to avoid becoming the victim of a hijacking or terrorist plot. Here's a list of items you cannot bring on your person or in carry-on luggage:
*Weapons - For the most obvious reasons. Firearms, ammunition, gunpowder, mace, tear gas, or pepper spray.
*Knives of any length, composition, or description.
*All cutting and puncturing instruments. This includes pocketknives, carpet knives and box cutters, ice picks, straight razors, metal scissors, and metal nail files.
*Athletic equipment that could be used as a weapon, such as baseball/softball bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles, and hockey sticks.
*Fireworks - signal flares, sparklers, or other explosives.
*Flammable liquids or solids - fuel, paints, lighter refills, matches.
*Household items - drain cleaners and solvents.
*Pressure containers - spray cans, butane fuel, scuba tanks, propane tanks, CO2 cartridges, and self-inflating rafts.
*Other banned hazardous materials include: gasoline-powered tools, wet-cell batteries, camping equipment with fuel, dry ice or radioactive materials (except limited quantities), poisons, and infectious substances. Check out FAA's website for more info on what each airline will allow.
Remember, you must declare hazardous materials to airlines, express package carriers or the Postal Service. Violations carry a civil penalty of up to $27,500 for each occurrence and, in appropriate cases, a criminal penalty of up to $500,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment. Hit this link for more hazardous material information from the FAA.
Also keep in mind that many common items used everyday in the home or workplace may seem harmless, but when transported by air they can become very dangerous. In flight, variations in temperature and pressure can cause items to leak, generate toxic fumes or start a fire.
According to FAA rules, personal care items containing hazardous materials (e.g., flammable perfume, aerosols) totaling no more than 70 ounces may be carried on board. Contents of each container may not exceed 16 fluid ounces.
You may only carry matches and lighters on your person. However, such products as "strike-anywhere" matches, lighters with flammable liquid reservoirs, and lighter fluid are forbidden.
Firearms and ammunition may not be carried by a passenger on an aircraft. However, unloaded firearms may be transported in checked baggage if declared to the agent at check-in and packed in a suitable container. Handguns must be in a locked container. Boxed small arms ammunition for personal use may be transported in checked luggage. Amounts may vary depending on the airline. Check with them before purchasing a ticket.
Leave gifts unwrapped. Airline security personnel will open and search gifts if the X-ray scan cannot determine the contents.
The most simple rule to follow? If in doubt, don't pack it.
To tell the truth you didn't even notice the young man until he sat down in the seat next to yours and apologized for knocking over a few of your bags. You look about, in a haze, as he helps you pick up the baggage. He seems helpful enough.
Two hours later, you're up in the air and finally headed home. At last. You breath a sigh a relief.
It may be your last. That 'nice man' who 'mistakenly knocked over' your bags is on your plane, and has jumped out of his seat to announce that a bomb is on board. Authorities later deduce the hijacker planted the bomb in the baggage of someone who wasn't paying attention to others around their bags as he or she was waiting to board . . .
During your time at the airport, it's important to make sure you don't inadvertently aid a potential hijacker. You will have to be on your highest guard. What are some of the principal things to keep in mind while you're at an airport?
*Watch your bags and personal belongings at all times.
*Do not accept packages from strangers. Giving a package containing a bomb or some other such item to a stranger is a favorite ploy of a potential hijacker or terrorist. History has shown that criminals and terrorists use unwitting passengers to carry bombs or other dangerous items on board aircraft, either by tricking passengers into carrying packages or by simply slipping items into unwatched bags.
*If you see unattended bags or packages anywhere in the airport terminal or parking area, immediately report them to a security officer or other authority.
*Report any suspicious activities or individuals in the airport or parking lot to airport security.
*Don't ever joke about having a bomb or firearm while in the airport terminal or on airport grounds. Don't discuss terrorism, weapons, explosives, or other threats while going through the security checkpoint. The mere mention of words such as "gun," "bomb," etc., can compel security personnel to detain and question you. They are trained to consider these simple comments as real threats. Penalties can be severe, and can include the possibility of time in prison and/or fines.
Feel free to click here for any further questions on airport security information.
Automated kiosks are available for airlines that have appropriate security measures in place. Interested travelers should check with their airlines.
Minors are not required to have identification. Failure to have proper identification may result in additional security scrutiny. With air security now under federal care, airlines will now be certain to prohibit you from boarding without proper ID.
For international flights, airlines are required to collect your full name and ask you for a contact name and phone number.
Be prepared to answer any and all questions about your bags. When asked who packed your bags and if you might have left them unattended at anytime, think carefully and answer the questions as honestly as you can. Again, hijackers and terrorists may well use unsuspecting passengers to carry bombs or other dangerous items onto aircraft.
Be understanding and cooperative as screeners ask to hand-search your bags. Security personnel should search a bag if the x-ray scan cannot determine its contents.
Only ticketed passengers are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints, unless a passenger requires parental oversight or must be accompanied by a medical assistant.
Travelers are limited to one carry-on bag and one personal item (e.g., purse or briefcase).
Electronic items, such as laptop computers and cell phones, may be subjected to additional screening. Be prepared to remove your laptop from its travel case so it can be X-rayed separately.
On the Airplane
Listen carefully to the flight attendant's safety instructions. Make sure to note where the closest exit to your seat is located.
Wear your seat belt, and make sure to report unattended items to your flight attendant.
*Wear clothes made of natural fabrics such as cotton, wool, denim or leather.
*Synthetics may melt when heated.
*Dress to cover as much skin as possible.
*Wear clothing that is roomy, and avoid restrictive clothing.
*Wear low-heeled, leather or canvas shoes.
In an emergency evacuation leave your belongings behind. This emphasis comes directly from the DOT and FAA's reports.
*Listen carefully to the safety briefing.
*Be able to locate emergency exits both in front and behind you. Count the rows between you and the nearest front and rear exits.
*Locate the flotation device.
*Make a mental plan of action in case of emergency.
Exit Row Seating
It's essential that you be physically capable and willing to perform emergency actions when seated in emergency or exit rows. If you are not, ask for another seat. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the emergency evacuation techniques outlined on the written safety instructions. Ask questions if instructions are unclear.
If those on board are able to evacuate, do so by following the instructions given to you by the attendants on board. They are well-trained, and will know how to get everyone out quickly and safely. Proceed to the nearest front or rear exit - count the rows between your seat and the exits so that you will know which exit will be the one you should use in case of an emergency. Follow the floor lighting to the exit. Make sure you jump feet first onto evacuation slide; don't sit down to slide. Place arms across your chest, elbows in, and legs and feet together. Women should remove high-heeled shoes.
Again, if you have possessions with you stored in the overhead compartment, leave them behind. Do not re-enter a burning structure such as the cabin of an airplane if you have left or are about to leave it. Going back into a burning structure filled with very highly-combustible fuel for nothing but that special present your grandmother gave you is a poor reason to put your life on the line.
Exit the aircraft and clear the area once you get to the ground. Remember, others have to get out too. Remain alert for emergency vehicles.
[If you are traveling abroad, you should] bring travelers checks and one or two major credit cards instead of cash. Pack an extra set of passport photos along with a photocopy of your passport information page to make replacement of your passport easier in the event it is lost or stolen.
Put your name, address and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags to avoid casual observation of your identity or nationality and if possible, lock your luggage.
Consider getting a telephone calling card. It is a convenient way of keeping in touch. If you have one, verify that you can use it from your overseas location(s). Access numbers to U.S. operators are published in many international newspapers. Find out your access number before you go . . .
Don't bring anything you would hate to lose. Leave at home:
*valuable or expensive-looking jewelry,
*irreplaceable family objects,
*all unnecessary credit cards.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home in case they need to contact you in an emergency.
Make two photocopies of your passport identification page, airline tickets, driver's license and the credit cards that you plan to bring with you. Leave one photocopy of this data with family or friends at home; pack the other in a place separate from where you carry your valuables.
Leave a copy of the serial numbers of your travelers checks with a friend or relative at home. Carry your copy with you in a separate place and, as you cash the checks, cross them off the list . . .
The Department of State's Consular Information Sheets are available for every country of the world. They describe unusual entry, currency regulations or unusual health conditions, the crime and security situation, political disturbances, areas of instability, special information about driving and road conditions and drug penalties. They also provide addresses and emergency telephone numbers for U.S. embassies and consulates. In general, the sheets do not give advice. Instead, they describe conditions so travelers can make informed decisions about their trips.
In some dangerous situations, however, the State Department recommends that Americans defer travel to a country. In such a case, a Travel Warning is issued for the country in addition to its Consular Information Sheet.
Public Announcements are a means to disseminate information about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term and/or trans-national conditions posing significant risks to the security of American travelers. They are issued when there is a perceived threat usually involving Americans as a particular target group. In the past, Public Announcements have been issued to deal with short-term coups, pre-election disturbances, violence by terrorists and anniversary dates of specific terrorist events.
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements are available at the 13 regional passport agencies; at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad; or by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-4818. They are also available through airline computer reservation systems when you or your travel agent make your international air reservations.
In addition, you can access Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements 24-hours a day in several [other] ways:
To listen to them, call (202) 647-5225 from a touch-tone phone.
From your fax machine, dial (202) 647-3000, using the handset as you would a regular telephone. The system prompts you on how to proceed.
Information about travel and consular services is available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs' World Wide Web home page. [. . .] It includes Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, passport and visa information, travel publications, background on international adoption and international child abduction services and international legal assistance. It also links to the State Department's main Internet site, which contains current foreign affairs information.
Most terrorist attacks are the result of long and careful planning. Just as a car thief will first be attracted to an unlocked car with the key in the ignition, terrorists are looking for defenseless, easily accessible targets who follow predictable patterns. The chances that a tourist, traveling with an unpublished program or itinerary, would be the victim of terrorism are slight. In addition, many terrorist groups, seeking publicity for political causes within their own country or region, may not [always] be looking for American targets . . .
The following pointers may help you avoid becoming a target of opportunity. [. . .] These precautions may provide some degree of protection, and can serve as practical and psychological deterrents to would-be terrorists.
*Schedule direct flights if possible and avoid stops in high-risk airports or areas.
*Consider other options for travel, such as trains.
*Be aware of what you discuss with strangers or what may be overheard by others.
*Try to minimize the time spent in the public area of an airport, which is a less protected area.
*Move quickly from the check-in counter to the secured areas. On arrival, leave the airport as soon as possible.
*As much as possible, avoid luggage tags, dress and behavior which may identify you as an American.
*Keep an eye out for suspicious abandoned packages or briefcases. Report them to airport security or other authorities and leave the area promptly.
*Avoid obvious terrorist targets such as places where Americans and Westerners are known to congregate.
Travel To High-Risk Areas
If you must travel in an area where there has been a history of terrorist attacks or kidnapping, make it a habit to:
*Discuss with your family what they would do in the event of an emergency. Make sure your affairs are in order before leaving home.
*Register with the U.S. embassy or consulate upon arrival.
*Remain friendly but be cautious about discussing personal matters, your itinerary or program.
*Leave no personal or business papers in your hotel room.
*Watch for people following you or "loiterers" observing your comings and goings.
*Keep a mental note of safe havens, such as police stations, hotels, hospitals.
*Let someone [you trust] know what your travel plans are. Keep them informed if you change your plans.
*Avoid predictable times and routes of travel and report any suspicious activity to local police, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
*Select your own taxi cabs at random. Don't take a vehicle that is not clearly identified as a taxi.
*Compare the face of the driver with the one posted on his or her license.
*If possible, travel with others.
*Be sure of the identity of visitors before opening the door of your hotel room. Don't meet strangers at unknown or remote locations.
*Refuse unexpected packages.
*Formulate a plan of action for what you will do if a bomb explodes or there is gunfire [. . .].
*Check for loose wires or other suspicious activity [on or around an aircraft, etc.].
*If you are ever in a situation where somebody starts shooting, drop to the floor or get down as low as possible. Don't move until you are sure the danger has passed . . . If possible, shield yourself behind or under a solid object. If you must move, crawl on your stomach.
The U.S. government's policy not to negotiate with terrorists is firm - to do so would only increase the risk of further hostage-taking. When Americans are abducted overseas, we look to the host government to exercise its responsibility under international law to protect all persons within its territories and to bring about the safe release of hostages. We work closely with these governments from the outset of a hostage-taking incident to ensure that our citizens and other innocent victims are released as quickly and safely as possible.
Normally, the most dangerous phases of a hijacking or hostage situation are the beginning and, if there is a rescue attempt, [at] the end. [Particularly] at the outset, the terrorists typically are tense, high-strung and may behave irrationally. It is extremely important that you remain calm and alert and manage your own behavior.
Try to avoid resistance and sudden or threatening movements [unless it is absolutely necessary]. Do not struggle or try to escape unless you are certain of being successful [or you truly have no other choice].
Make a concerted effort to relax. Breathe deeply and prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for the possibility of a long ordeal.
Try to remain inconspicuous, avoid direct eye contact and the appearance of observing your captors' actions.
Avoid alcoholic beverages. Consume little food and drink.
Consciously put yourself in a mode of . . . cooperation. Talk normally. Do not complain, avoid belligerency, and comply with all orders and instructions.
If questioned, keep your answers short. Don't volunteer information or make unnecessary overtures.
Maintain your sense of personal dignity and gradually increase your requests for personal comforts. Make these requests in a reasonable, low-key manner.
If you are involved in a lengthier, drawn-out situation, try to establish a rapport with your captors, avoiding political discussions or other confrontational subjects.
Establish a daily program of mental and physical activity. Don't be afraid to ask for anything you need or want - medicines, books, pencils, papers.
Eat what they give you, even if it does not look or taste appetizing. A loss of appetite and weight is normal.
Think positively. Avoid a sense of despair. Rely on your inner resources. Remember that you are a valuable commodity to your captors. It is important to them to keep you alive and well.
Also, if you feel you must try to fight back - meaning if you believe you and the others have no other choice but to fight back - remember that the hijacker(s) will almost certainly be using some kind of makeshift knife in order to establish a sense of fear in the passengers, or at least something with which to stab or cut: guns are practically impossible to get aboard an aircraft, and most common knives would also fall into that category.
While they may indeed assert that a bomb is on the aircraft, they tend to realize that physically brandishing a weapon makes the possibility of a bomb quite tangible to those on the craft, and helps deter would-be heroes (most of the time).
Box cutters and other such mechanisms, which were allowed on board at the time of the 9-11 attack (the box cutters have since been banned) might possibly be smuggled on; and of course we've already heard that someone could conceivably even use the end of a broken wine bottle to cause all the fear and damage they wish..
What this means however is that the hijacker usually has the misfortune of having to be very close to a person in order to inflict damage; and, since he will have at best two or three other accomplices, he stands a very good chance of being outnumbered, provided others feel the situation to be as dire as you. If - again, only if - you feel the situation is truly dire, should you ever try to fight back. Simply put, the two best methods are:
*Throw whatever you can at the hijacker(s), preferably with others joining in as well. Disrupt all attempts for the hijacker(s) to control the situation.
*Conceivably, some type of stun gun would be an excellent deterrent; in fact, several in the airline industry have been fighting for flight crew members to possess these weapons aboard flights. It is a more reasoned approach than the air marshal firing a loaded pistol inside a pressurized cabin that's flying thousands of feet in the air. While gunshots would surely bring down the hijacker(s), the immediate loss of cabin pressure would bring down the entire plane as well. A stun gun could incapacitate the hijacker without causing damage to either the cabin or others on board.
The problem with traditional stun guns is that they necessitate the user actually coming in contact with the hijacker - not a great plan, since they usually have a much more serious weapon.
A fine alternative for crew members (and perhaps even the passengers, if it would ever be allowed) would be a taser gun. These weapons contain a compression of either air or nitrogen that is used to shoot two small probes at an assailant up to 15 feet away. These probes are connected to the gun by high-voltage insulated wire.
When the probes attach to an assailant's clothing, the gun immediately sends out a series of T-waves, electrical signals very similar to those used by the brain and other parts of the body to communicate with one another. The surge of T-waves effectively 'jams' the communication system of the body; the assailant loses control of his body and cannot perform coordinated actions. He will fall to the ground until he regains self-control some minutes later.
The T-waves can normally penetrate up to 2 inches of clothing; it causes no long-term damage, and is faster than mace or chemical sprays. You don't have to be in contact with or even be very close to a person to give them the jolt of their lives, and the taser is sure not to depressurize your airplane cabin. And it is fully operational as a traditional stun gun if you come in close contact with the individual.
If the US government would ever allow passengers to bring tasers aboard, alcohol consumption aboard flights would have be banned immediately, however. Just ask any flight attendant.
If you're interested in finding out more about such items, you may wish to check out this web site.
Naturally, you should try to plan such a move with others before you try such a thing, since there's sure to be more than one hijacker if he's the kind that likes to run planes into populated buildings.
And again we reiterate: such methods should only be used if it appears certain to you and others that there is no choice but to attack. September 11th aside, most of the time hijackings end peacefully. This is absolutely a last resort.
One other thing we should mention, if for no other reason than to give you an extra ray of hope: hijackers are almost always caught. The cases are too high-profile, and the stakes too high for a hijacking to end up otherwise. According to the FAA, "interference with the duties of any crew member is a violation of federal law. Fines could range up to $25,000 per violation in addition to criminal penalties. The FBI, federal enforcement agencies, airlines, crumblers and FAA have combined to vigorously pursue prosecution, which has resulted in imprisonment."
Make sure to keep that in mind as well if you find yourself the sudden victim of a hijacking.
This need to fight together is just as important in the skies, and at home. According to the FBI, in 1996 there were 3 terrorist incidents in the United States, as compared with 1 in 1995; zero in 1994; a spike to 12 in 1993; and 4 in 1992. The three incidents that occurred in 1996 involved pipe bombs, including the pipe bomb that exploded at the Atlanta Olympics.
According to intelligence agencies, conventional explosives and weapons continue to be the arms of choice for terrorists. Terrorists are less likely to use chemical and biological weapons, although the likelihood that terrorists may use such materials could increase over the next decade.
Another reason terrorists may not care for chemical and biological agents is that they are more difficult to weaponize, and the results are usually unpredictable.
According to the FBI, the threat of terrorists using chemical and biological weapons is low, but some such groups and individuals have been showing interest in these weapons since about 1998. US officials also "have noted that terrorists' use of nuclear weapons is the least likely scenario, although the consequences could be disastrous," according to one US government paper released in 1998.
It goes to show the importance of attacking this problem together, whether it be a group of national agencies, or a group on a hijacked plane. Whatever happens, we must work together to ensure that a hijacking ordeal ends as safely as possible, for the greatest number of people possible. It's the only way an enemy of this kind can truly be defeated.