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Delta Blues — Airline Security in the Age of Terrorism

August 8th, 2008by Haim Watzman · 4 Comments · Politics and Policy

Haim Watzman

Here I am stuck in New Jersey, while the four suitcases checked by me and Ilana are in flight. In other words, while security at Kennedy International Airport kept Ilana and me from bringing hand cream into the secure area, our luggage was allowed to fly on its own to Israel. If a terrorist wanted to blow up an airplane, would he rather use a jar of Ponds or a large valise?

The story began when we arrived at JFK last evening for Delta flight 86 to Tel Aviv. We checked our suitcases, received our boarding passes, had our carry-on bags x-rayed and our persons put through sensors. But when we arrived at the gate, we were informed that the flight would be delayed by an hour and a half. We waited, and then take-off was put off until midnight, and then until 1 a.m.

By that time it was clear that the flight would, at best, arrive only minutes before Shabbat came in, leaving us no time to get to Jerusalem. So we reluctantly relinquished our dreams of a warm Shabbat with our four children and asked to be rescheduled for Sunday night’s flight.

Delta’s agent, an extremely polite and helpful young man named Brian, did as he should. Even before reissuing our boarding passes, he asked for our baggage checks and called down to have our suitcases removed from the plane. This is elementary airline security–a bag going without its owner is prima facie suspicious.

In the meantime, flight 86’s crew were put through another security check, including x-ray of bags and metal detector. The aircraft, which had arrived late from Amman, was inspected by a security crew. Then the passengers were put through another security check. Brian told us that our bags were off and could be recovered in baggage claim. But when we went down there–it was now close to 2 a.m.–the woman there told us that the office was closed and we’d have to wait until morning. Ilana and I found a set of porter’s carts that we made into makeshift beds, and slept fitfully for a couple hours until the porters arrived. We waited a couple more hours on uncomfortable chairs, and then returned to baggage claim.

The morning shift woman, again very polite and eager to help, checked our claim checks on the computer and told us the bags had gone on the flight to Israel. I didn’t believe that Delta would commit such a breach of security, and I also needed my clothes for the weekend. The woman allowed me to go through the bag rooms to look for our suitcases, but she was right–they were not there.

We called our friend Susan in New Jersey and she gladly invited us over for Shabbat and Tisha B’Av. And she took us out to buy a few items of clothing so we’d have something to wear (you’re not supposed to wear new clothes in the week before the fast of the Ninth of Av, but neither are you supposed to go to shul on Shabbat in sweaty and stained cargo pants and a teeshirt).

We’ll write a letter of complaint to Delta, asking to be compensated for our travel expenses to New Jersey and the cost of the extra clothing. We will probably receive a polite letter refusing to take any responsibility for the fiasco. But far more troublesome is the fact that Delta is flying planes loaded with suspicious suitcases.

If I were a terrorist, I’d be heartened. I’d rush off to the airport with my bags packed so fast that I’d leave my toothpaste and hand cream behind. Why not? I could be sure that my bags would go into the belly of a jet liner while I’d get back home in time to brush my teeth before bed.

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