Airlines must respond to challenging times

Let’s get this straight as to the actions of Anil Uskanli, 25, of Turkey, and figure out how he was still allowed to board a plane Friday. Tell us if this makes sense to you.

• He purchased a ticket at an airline counter in the middle of the night with no luggage. All he had was a laptop, phone and a few other pocket items. Perhaps this alone might not be alarming, as folks sometimes probably just buy clothes when they get where they’re going. Not everyone travels with lots of luggage.

• He opened a door to a restricted airfield at Los Angeles International Airport. When stopped, he said he was looking for food. What? Like there aren’t hundreds of places to buy food at an airport where everyone else eats? He went looking behind closed doors? That’s odd.

• He smelled of alcohol. He was given a summons to appear in court and released. His boarding pass was confiscated and police walked him to a public area of the airport, where he should have been in the first place. He got another boarding pass and went through security again. How do you just get another boarding pass? Isn’t there a limit on these things? Can you just keep printing them out?

Here’s where it gets almost comical.

• Uskanli went to a different airport terminal, requested a wheelchair and was brought to the gate. Flight attendants helped Uskanli at the door of the plane.

• He sat in first class and had to be asked several times to move to his economy seat.

This guy had trouble written all over him well before his flight left the ground. Yet, in a day when people have been removed from planes for refusing to give up their seat, for going to the bathroom at the wrong time, for trying to sneak into first-class seating, and for reportedly not following orders about where to store a birthday cake, Uskanli was allowed to board and stay.

Could be, as some have speculated, American Airlines employees were hesitant to remove him to avoid an incident that would make national headlines. Turned out, this time, they should have pulled him out and saved themselves a lot of trouble.

In defense of airlines and TSA, they deal with millions of people. They can’t possibly be expected to prevent everyone who acts strangely from catching their flight. If they did that, a lot of us would never be allowed on a plane. Fortunately, the vast majority of flyers are fine, law-abiding citizens who will do as they are told. They will remain in their seats, read a book, sleep, watch a movie.

But some do not listen.

When the pilot comes on the intercom system and says, “we’re running into turbulence, fasten your seat belts and stay in your seats,” you would think people would follow such a simple directive. But next time you’re on an overseas flights, and that seat belt light comes on and the pilot announces the flight is about to get a bit rough so remain seated, watch grown men and women casually get up and walk around, like they can’t hear. Even after a flight attendant again tells people to remain seated, some folks won’t. They hear, but they don’t care, like these rules don’t apply to them.

It’s easy to criticize the airlines for how they have handled recent situations. No doubt, they have in some cases made bad decisions, even after having time to consider their options. And yes, one could argue, a case we make here, that Uskanli should never have been allowed on his flight. Just too many things that, together, should have set off alarms.

Considering that airlines deal with countless people every day — and a good many of these people are rude, disrespectful and ill-tempered — the airlines will occasionally make mistakes with passengers in removing them, or letting them fly.

Such mistakes, however, must be limited, because when you’re 30,000 feet in the air, the margin for error is so very, very slim. The game plan here still needs work.

Airlines, police and TSA, in this day and age of tight security with air travel and fears of terrorism, must rise to the occasion. They must do even more to ensure the safety of airline passengers. They must have better security and well-trained employees. They must do better. Yes, that is asking a lot. That is expecting a lot.

But the stakes could not be any higher.


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