Admiring Greenland From The Air While Freaking Out An Air Marshal

Intercontinental flights are usually pretty dull. The route between London and Chicago, however, is one I always look forward to. That’s because it flies over the southern tip of Greenland. The airplane heads northwest over Ireland, then arcs across the North Atlantic, barely missing Iceland before crossing Greenland.

I always seem to be lucky with the weather and get a clear view of the jagged coastline of fjords and glacial screes. The last time I flew that route the weather was especially fine. The water below sparkles a pale sapphire, reflecting the sun so brightly that it stings my eyes. Scattered across the ocean are the white dots of ice floes. Some are surrounded by water colored an emerald green. At first I don’t know what I’m looking at until I see several white dots clustered close together, with emerald both between and surrounding them, and I realize that I’m seeing icebergs, their tips white and their submerged parts green in the sea water.

Further inland, massive glaciers glint in the sunlight. There are no roads or buildings on the land, and no boats on the water. No people anywhere.

“Are you looking at the other plane?” a voice asks behind me.

“Huh?” I reply, not too eloquently. Then I notice another plane a little above us and far off to our right. I frown at it like it’s an unwelcome intruder. I don’t want to see evidence of people here.

“Um, no, I’m looking at Greenland,” I reply with a bit more coherence.

I’m standing at the emergency exit door looking out the porthole because the grumpy guy sitting at the window seat in my row is more interested in watching an inflight movie and wants the window closed.

“Why do you need to stand here to do that?” the person standing behind me asks.

After griping about the idiocy of the guy in my row, I launch into an enthusiastic monologue about how I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland, how I’ve eagerly read explorer’s tales and Inuit folklore, that this was one of the few truly wild places left on Earth and it’s my dream to someday trek across it.

“Really.” His response comes out flat, suspicious.

I turn around and look at the person I’m talking to for the first time. Behind me stands a burly man with a buzz cut. He’s studying me closely.

This is an air marshal, I realize, and while everyone else is sleeping or watching movies I’m standing by the emergency exit.

Suddenly I see the situation from his perspective. He’s trying to decide whether I’m an eccentric nutcase or a terrorist. I prefer to have him think I’m an eccentric nutcase. I launch into an even more enthusiastic monologue about Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s first skiing expedition across Greenland in 1888, and the Norse settlements there that served as a base for Viking exploration of North America. Then I talk about the natural history of the island. My hopes of making it to the United States as a free man rise as I watch his eyes glaze over.

“Whatever,” he says with a shrug and walks off. He hasn’t even glanced out the window.

I go back to watching the glaciers below and dreaming of my next adventure.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Airlines to federal air marshals – get out of our first class cabins and sit in coach

A debate is brewing amongst the airlines about the effectiveness of federal air marshals sitting in the first class cabin.

The current air marshal program was based on the events of 9/11, and the fact the would-be terrorists would attempt to take over the cockpit. As past events have shown, the “new” method used by terrorists is to create their mayhem in the coach cabin, using explosives. Having the air marshal up front in a comfy chair isn’t going to help much if the majority of issues are in the rear.

Also, after 9/11, cockpit doors were reinforced, making it almost impossible to storm the cockpit without some major tools.

At the moment, air marshals expect first class seating, and in some cases, a long haul international flight could have three or four marshals taking up pricey seats. Of course, the airlines are quick to point out that this is not a revenue issue, but purely based off safety and the appropriate response to new threats. That may very well be, but I know that paying passengers are not thrilled when they can’t get a first class seat simply because a bunch of air marshals feel they need to be up front.

A spokesman for the air marshal program said that “seating is assigned to maximize the effectiveness of the team. Move further and further back in the plane and it will take longer and longer to respond.”

I’m not entirely sure what he’s basing this on – since all the recent threats were in the back of the plane. With his logic, it takes longer to walk from the back of the plane, to the back of the plane, than it takes to walk from the front to the back. Sitting in the back of the plane also gives a much easier way to watch the entire cabin. With just 40 or 50 rows of seats to maneuver, I’m sure these fit marshals won’t take much longer to get from one end to another.

What are your thoughts? Should the federal air marshal program require their agents to sit in first class, or should they be able to do their job from coach?


[Photo from Flickr/Richard Moross]

Stupid passenger of the week – impersonates a federal air marshal

When we travel, we all do something stupid at one point. It could be forgetting an important item of clothing, or something as simple as forgetting where you parked your car when you get back to long term parking.

But a passenger at Miami airport took stupid to a whole new level when he arrived at his gate past the departure time.

Yeah, many of us have probably been through this routine – you get to the gate, but the boarding door is closed and even though you can see the plane, the agents won’t let you on board.

Normal people will be upset, some others might even go berserk, but this guy decided it would be a fun idea to pull a fake police badge and claim he’s with the federal air marshal program.

Those magic words got the doors opened for him, and he was allowed on the plane. His plan would have been perfect, if it were not for 2 real marshals on the flight who kicked him off when they inspected his badge.

At that point, this idiot could have/should have simply left the airport, but he decided to vent at the airport bar, where he started to complain loudly about missing his flight. Which of course made it really easy for cops to arrest him.

He’s being charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer, and I’m sure they’ll find some other nice terror related charges to throw at him. I sure hope he enjoys riding the bus, because I doubt he’ll be flying the friendly skies any time soon.

(thanks Emily!)

Check out these stories from the airport checkpoint!

Paranoia strikes again – Muslim family kicked off their Airtran flight

Here we go again. Another family traveling for the holidays has been kicked off their flight after a fellow passenger observed them mentioning the word “safety”. That’s right, not “bomb”, “terrorist” or “hijack”.

Just your average family of 9 trying to figure out where they wanted to seat.

Someone on board managed to get the attention of 2 federal air marshals, who then contacted their superiors in Washington. The family was then kicked off the plane, questioned by the FBI and of course, cleared of any wrongdoing.

The TSA then decided that the threat was so credible, that all 104 passengers would have to be re-screened, and that all their bags would have to be inspected again. To me, this means that they admit they may have done a crappy job during the first screening.

As if that wasn’t enough, Airtran then refused to transport the 9 passengers and simply refunded their tickets. It took some effort by the FBI to find alternative flights for the family.

Good job Airtran, keeping us safe from people trying to find a decent seat on your flights. In their defense, AirTran did let the family know that they were free to fly with them in the future, which I’m sure they are really thrilled to hear.

(Via: NBC Washington)