He was stopped before he got to the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 31 from Los Angeles to Honolulu. And whether he's harmful to others or just himself remains to be determined. Happily, he was armed only with a laptop and not a box-cutter like those favored by the hijackers of a different, less prepared decade who sent both planes and the country into a tailspin.
But that was then and this is now, as a man tentatively identified as Anil Uskanli, 25, from Santa Monica, Calif., and before that somewhere in Turkey, got a little too close to the front of the jet late last week. But he underestimated how better prepared this country is now. All systems were in place to foil any amateurish attempt to enter a plane's cabin like his, but more significantly, so were the people -- lay and professional. If personnel is policy, these folks were the personification of national security. And the result was a happy ending as the poor sap was quickly subdued on board before being hustled off to custody, where a courtroom awaits. Or maybe some time in detox.
There were 181 passengers reported aboard plus a crew of six -- and they spotted the not very talented Mr. Uskanli even before take-off. Donna and Mark Basden from Albuquerque found a laptop in the seat pocket in front of their first-class seats and, assuming a previous passenger had left it there, reported their find to a flight attendant, who said it probably belonged to a man who'd gone to the aircraft's restroom. But when a scruffy type emerged, and Mr. Basden handed him the laptop, all he did was accept it, open and close it, and then set off for another seat in first class.
According to Mrs. Basden, the man "clearly looked out of place" and his manners weren't first-class, either. Despite all the talk about how unfair it is to judge people by how they look, class markers do have their place when making judgments about one's personal safety -- as anyone hassled by an aggressive panhandler probably has learned.
After checking his boarding pass, one of the flight attendants told the dazed and confused subject he'd have to go back to Row 35 at the back of the plane. He did, but only for a while. Then, halfway through the scheduled six-hour flight, here he came again, once more holding his laptop but this time with some sort of towel or blanket over his head. Much like the elephant in the room trying to be inconspicuous. Can't be done.
"He was very quiet, moving very sluggish," noted another passenger, Grant Arakelian. "He was trying to approach the cabin, like where the captain is." He didn't make it very far. Another passenger would recall an alert flight attendant running down the aisle using her serving cart as a battering ram, "and she just said, 'You're not coming in here.' " And he didn't. For by that time several passengers, including an off-duty police officer, held him back. A resourceful bunch, they soon came up with the all-purpose remedy, duct tape. Along with pillows and blankets, the better to tie him to a seat.
Inside and alongside the aircraft all was soon under control. For two Raptor F-22 fighter jets had scrambled to escort the civilian airliner to a safe landing and happy ending in Honolulu, where a crowd of federal agents, not counting police dogs, waited to lead Anil Uskanli away -- before proceeding to search every seat and every passenger aboard. No seat cushion was left unturned.
Call it your federal, state and local tax money at work -- and nobody can say every dollar and cent wasn't well spent. Welcome home, passengers, and thank you each and every one for demonstrating that the all-American spirit is still very much alive and well. For united we still stand.