The Association of Flight Attendants has been leaning on Congress to amp up counter-terrorism measures in the cabin. After all, the security teams in the airports haven’t exactly impressed over the past few years. So, what happens to the passengers and crew when some scumbag finds a way to tote a gun, knife or oversized bottle of shampoo on board? The flight attendants’ union believes it has the answer: hand-to-hand combat. Whether it’s a killer choke hold or a beverage cart to the ‘nads, they’re ready to take charge.
Well, the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents more than 55,000 employees at 20 airlines, actually has a four-point plan to increase cabin safety, but most of it is pretty boring. The group proposes communications devices to help them speak directly to the pilots when an emergency breaks out, standardized carry-on luggage size (to make it easier to spot the suspicious people with oversized bags) and the terminating of in-flight wifi during periods of peak terror risk.
And, the grappling, kicking and boxing.
Someday, this will probably be remembered as one of those “What the hell were they thinking?” moments – if it’s remembered at all. But, for now, it’s something that the flight attendants’ group has plopped on the table, and it strikes me as unlikely to make a difference. Why?
Here are six reasons to get you started:1. It hasn’t made a difference so far
According to Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the association, combat training is currently optional for flight attendants, and those who pursue it have to do so on their own time. If this train is so important, I’d think that making it mandatory would be unnecessary, as such skills would already be common. If I thought there were a substantial threat to my safety every day at work, I’d commit to staying safe. Also, I haven’t seen any reports lately of a flight attendant, trained in the ways of the warrior, rescuing passengers from evil clutches. I applaud those who pursue it on their own but don’t see a whole lot of reasons for passengers (or taxpayers) to pick up the tab on this one.
2. It isn’t as simple as it sounds
Basic hand-to-hand combat may not equip a flight attendant to take on a wizened warrior who’s spent time in a terrorist training camp or battled the Soviets for a decade. It may work; it may not. But, this is hardly a silver bullet. Further, an overzealous flight attendant combatant could make a bad situation worse (e.g., a hostage situation that is not destined to end in a mix of suicide and homicide). If I have a chance of getting out alive, I’m not sure I’d welcome some sort of flying drop kick from the FA.
3. Why not go straight to guns?
If the point is to neutralize or eliminate a threat, why screw around with fisticuffs? Let’s bring some heat to bear on the situation. Flight attendants could board strapped and ready to rumble. If this sounds absurd, it’s a matter of degree. Mandatory and-to-hand combat training entails equipping flight attendants to use force to solve a problem. Any weapon, from fists to firearms, brings with it a certain set of risks (e.g., being overpowered, misuse of training). So, if we don’t trust flight attendants to don shoulder holsters, we should probably think about other forms of violence, however justified.
4. Terrorists have been stopped without this training
We saw this only a few months ago, with the Christmas bomber’s unsuccessful attempt. Also, the “shoe bomber” didn’t get far. Both incidents do raise the issue of whether better screening, observation and identification measures are needed on board (ummm, yeah), but these are the scenarios in which fists would fly, and ninja flight attendants weren’t necessary.
5. There’s a role for judgment
This one worries the hell out of me. Thinking back to the orange juice debacle on American Airlines, I’m not sure I’d issue rules of engagement that involve ass-kicking. What ultimately led to an FAA warning for the passenger (and PR disaster for American) could have been a bloody mess. Well, that’s assuming the other FAs didn’t come to the passenger’s aid, triggering a fight to the death in the first class cabin. “Hold my Blackberry and pass me the nunchucks.”
6. Who makes the call?
Violence for the sake of safety, I believe, is best left to trained killer. I choose that expression carefully, referring to people who know how to apply force and in what amounts to remove a threat. Military personnel, police officers, Blackwater consultants – these folks don’t just learn how to execute a hold or squeeze the trigger. They learn about situations and conditions in which it’s appropriate. As early as basic training (now a long time ago for me), I remember having rules of engagement drilled into me. Ultimately, a lot of people would have had to make a lot of decisions in order for me to send a round down range. On a plane, would it be any flight attendant’s decision? The most senior? Or, would it have to come from the cockpit? If we can’t trust a soldier to inflict violence without a hefty amount of forethought, I’m not crazy about an FA having that sort of power.
What’s truly disconcerting about the scheme is a remark by Caldwell: “We are not taking on more responsibility.” Really? She continues, “We just want more tools to make the plane safer,” but it seems like that isn’t possible without taking on – you guessed it – more responsibility. If you’re going to clock a passenger in the jaw, you need to be ready to own the decision. If it’s truly justified, there’s nothing to worry about.