Understanding the Law
January 8, 2010

Air travel horrors

On Christmas day we were rudely reminded in no uncertain way of the dangers to which air travelers are exposed. Nigerian born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab journeyed across the Atlantic with a bomb in his underwear, intending to blow up a North West passenger Airline, Flight 253 on American soil. When the plane landed in Detroit, passengers heard a popping sound from the bomb he had detonated.{{more}} Luckily he failed to carry out the destruction he had intended to cause. This incident reminds us forcefully that there are persons out there who would go to any length to spew their hatred and further their own agenda. We must not think that everyone who boards an aircraft is concerned about safety or about your nationality.

Political and religious scores settled in the air

Whenever the opportunity is obtained, extremists have seen it fit to settle their political and religious issues by taking down aircraft and killing innocent persons. This brings 9/11 into sharp focus when certain al-Qaeda operatives brought several aircraft down and caused death and destruction on American soil. We cannot forget the Vincentian who perished in the Pan AM aircraft that was brought down by a national of Libya over Lockabee, Scotland. Eight years ago there was Richard Reid who carried a bomb in his shoes. On August 10, 2006, British authorities announced that they had arrested several persons in connection with a plot to use liquid explosives on aircraft and who were going to disguise the explosive as ordinary liquid. Naturally, this caused widespread delays as passengers were subjected to extensive screening.

New Rules for flying

The recent Christmas day incident has led to the decision by the USA to carry out more intense screening of nationals from fourteen countries, including those that are sponsors of terrorism. Since 2001, passengers’ shoes have had to be x-rayed, along with other carry on items. Since 2006, liquids in carry-on have been banned. There has been a slight relaxation where a limited amount of liquid is allowed if it is carried in a clear plastic bag. I am certain no one would want to complain about the extreme screening, but the way it is done sometimes shows little concern for the travelling public. If you do not wear socks then be prepared for a long walk barefooted on the cold concrete floor for the duration of the screening process. No carpet or socks await you.

The controversial backscatter machine is already in use in some airports. It draws radiation from your body to show a naked image to a TSA worker in a room nearby and if you travel to the USA more than once per year you can expect to be x-rayed as many times. Some voices of protest have been raised about the violations against the right to privacy, but others are willing to trade this for the protection that it could give in travelling on an aircraft. But would it have stopped the Christmas bomber who carried the bomb in his crotch given that the private area is usually blurred in the “virtual strip search” by the backscatter machine? The issue of radiation has been also raised, and although the authorities are confident that the level is low, there are others who feel that radiation without the lead vest could be dangerous.

All the best to you and your family for the New Year.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com