The national media have certainly paid attention to airline security issues since 9-11. But they can't be expected to learn about and report every airline disruption, especially if no real act of terror occurs. Thus it begs the question: How many times, at how many airports, have there been these kinds of incidents that have not made it to the news desks? I ask because I've been a witness to one such incident, from a distance of perhaps three feet, which never made it on the news.
On Oct. 14, I was in Grand Rapids, having boarded United 5832 to Chicago. It was one of those smaller commuter jets with two seats on either side of the aisle. The flight was perhaps one-third full, giving sardined passengers the opportunity to move to the multiple open rows after the boarding process was complete. That's when I noticed the two men, one a younger Muslim, the second an older black man, make their way from the back to the two seats behind the bulkhead on the right side of the plane, one row in front and across from me.
Odd. If they wanted more breathing room, why were they choosing to sit together again in crammed quarters, given all the open rows? Why did they move at all? And if they remained together because they needed to visit, why didn't they exchange a single word? I watched them as they just sat, staring straight ahead. And the plane also just sat by the gate, for a good 15 minutes.
And then the hatch flew open and a half-dozen DHS/FBI agents rushed in, surrounded these two men and, flashing badges, ordered them off the plane.
Now stop for a minute. Imagine you were one of these two, and you were innocent. What would be your reaction if suddenly confronted by a small army of heat-packing federal agents demanding your removal? You might literally jump out of your seat in surprise. What? Me? Huh?! Why? What's going on?! What'd I do? What's the meaning of this? And the like. And that's when it really got creepy.
I watched as the two men stood up and, without a word, without a shred of emotion on their faces, calmly accompanied the agents off the plane. How else to explain this? They were expecting their detention.
The pilot would take to the intercom a few minutes later to explain what he could. Homeland Security had been running background checks on these two, and while nothing had registered on the computers, the flight crew was "just uncomfortable" -- as they had every reason to be.
Something is happening out there. And it's not good.