Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reflections: Scouted

About half way to Denver from Chicago we heard a ding, a flight attendant calling. I was expecting a drink offer. As I reached for the handset, my first officer, Tom, said, “I’ll take water.”

But the lead flight attendant―whom at this airline we call the “purser”―immediately said, “I’ve got to see you, NOW!”

I unlocked the door and she came into the cockpit with tears rolling down her cheeks. She was fairly young and I instantly concluded that some jerk had intimidated her.

She said four men got up from their seats in the coach section and came to her work station at the forward galley―next to the cockpit. They were Arabs, or at least looked and sounded like middle-easterners.

They asked her if they could visit the cockpit. She told them it was not allowed. One of them asked her if the door was locked. She said yes and asked them to go back to their seats. But they lingered.

They peppered her with more questions,
angering and upsetting her. They asked about the door, the rules, the procedures and even the consequences of entering the cockpit. Finally she told them to sit down or she would inform the captain and have the authorities meet the plane, which by then she had decided to do anyway. They went back to their seats.

She sat telling us this, sobbing and wiping her eyes. I assured her we would report the incident and ask for law enforcement at Denver. She thanked us, peered through the peephole to assure no one was standing near the door and went back.

“What do you make of it?” I asked Tom.

He shrugged. “Sounds like they may have been messin’ with her. She said they were young guys. But we ought to report it.”

We sent an ACARS message ahead describing what happened. When we blocked in at Denver, instead of law officers an unarmed female customer service supervisor met us and asked more questions about the incident. She wrote down the men's seat numbers and said she would look up their names. By the time she finished taking her notes all the passengers were gone.

Tom and I looked at each other and shrugged. That weak response was about what we expected. Little or nothing would probably
be done.

Then came September 11, 2001.

A couple of months later I saw Tom in operations. He rushed up to me. "Remember the flight when the four Arabs came up and scared the flight attendant?" I nodded. I had not thought about it until then. "They were scouting us!" Tom said, his bottom lip curling with indignation. "They were gathering informati
on. That's what the sorry bastards were doing!"

I think he was right.

Stay tuned for the next post which will describe an even more bizarre thing that happened to me the week prior to that awful day.