Why I’m not flying anytime soon

On June 29, 2004, at 12:28 p.m., I flew on Northwest Airlines flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles with my husband and our young son. Also on our flight were 14 Middle Eastern men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats….

As we sat waiting for the plane to finish boarding, we noticed another large group of Middle Eastern men boarding. The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat in first class in seat 1A, the seat second-closet to the cockpit door. The other seven men walked into the coach cabin. As aware Americans, my husband and I exchanged glances, and then continued to get comfortable. I noticed some of the other passengers paying attention to the situation as well. As boarding continued, we watched as, one by one, most of the Middle Eastern men made eye contact with each other. They continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were all in agreement about something. I could tell that my husband was beginning to feel anxious.

The take-off was uneventful. But once we were in the air and the seatbelt sign was turned off, the unusual activity began. The man in the yellow T-shirt got out of his seat and went to the lavatory at the front of coach — taking his full McDonald’s bag with him. When he came out of the lavatory he still had the McDonald’s bag, but it was now almost empty. He walked down the aisle to the back of the plane, still holding the bag. When he passed two of the men sitting mid-cabin, he gave a thumbs-up sign. When he returned to his seat, he no longer had the McDonald’s bag.

Then another man from the group stood up and took something from his carry-on in the overhead bin. It was about a foot long and was rolled in cloth. He headed toward the back of the cabin with the object. Five minutes later, several more of the Middle Eastern men began using the forward lavatory consecutively. In the back, several of the men stood up and used the back lavatory consecutively as well.

For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time. Meanwhile, in the first class cabin, just a foot or so from the cockpit door, the man with the dark suit – still wearing sunglasses – was also standing. Not one of the flight crew members suggested that any of these men take their seats.

The problem isn’t that the government isn’t going to be able to stop this. The government can never be relied upon to stop anything, except perhaps an amphibious invasion by another nation’s military. The problem is that the Federal government is actively working to prevent the airlines from being able to address the situation themselves.

If we still had free association in the United States, an airline could choose to deny flying anyone it believed posed a risk or even made its passengers feel unsafe. This would certainly be discrimination, and, horror of horrors, I say to you now that there is nothing wrong with discrimination. If the business of Syrians, blacks, homosexuals or Christians is of no interest to one in a free society, free association means that one has the right to decline it. (The injustice of segregation was that it was publicly enforced law, which is another matter altogether.)

This discrimination can be financially suicidal, or it can be absolutely necessary if you want to stay in business. The airlines are already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the next series of explosions bringing down several on the same day will finish them off unless they are allowed to do as they see fit in protecting their equipment, their employees, and most importantly, their paying customers.

Ironically, as with 9/11, people will look to the Federal government to solve a problem that its policies will be proven to have created.

UPDATE: An NRO reader writes in:

“Either there is something REALLY bad going on or that article is an urban legend. I just read a very similar story a couple of weeks ago (linked from Instapundit or AndrewSullivan or Boortz, I can’t remember) written by a man travelling with his wife and son. The story wasn’t quite as dramatic as this one but it involved suspicious arab passengers that were “wisked” away by who boarded the plane upon arrival. I can’t remember the exact details of the story but it seems to have all of the ear marks of urban legend-om.”

I don’t know “Annie Jacobsen”, so I can’t testify to the versimilitude of the article, but if it’s a hoax, the details are uncharacteristically accurate. True, she claims that the flight left at 12:28, not 12:22, but I don’t think a six-minute discrepancy casts the entire article in doubt. From NWA.com:

Northwest Airlines 327

Fri, Jul 23

4hr 39min

12:22pm Depart Detroit (DTW)

2:01pm Arrive Los Angeles (LAX)