Tales from the Trail

Jokes, arguments on airlines risk prison time in U.S.

Flying these days has become a pretty serious and daunting endeavor in the wake of the failed bombing attempt on the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas day. And U.S. officials appear to be putting the word out — don’t mess with us.

Two plane incidents last week — one plane bound for Hawaii returned to Portland, Oregon and another flight diverted to Colorado Springs, Colorado — have resulted in two men being charged with interfering with a flight crew which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence if convicted.

In the incident involving a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kahului, a passenger seated in the exit row of the plane was unhappy that he could not store his carry-on bag where he had easy access to it and decided to fill out a comment card.

SECURITY-AIRLINE/The passenger, identified in court documents as Joseph Johnson, sealed the card and gave it to a flight attendant, but it was opened and the crew became concerned about the content. The pilot  decided to turn the plane back to Portland and Johnson was taken off the plane.

Johnson wrote on the card, which he said he filled out as a joke, that he “thought I was going to die, we were so high up, I thought to myself: I hope we don’t crash and burn, or worse yet, landing in the ocean, living through it, only to be eaten by sharks, or worse yet, end up on someplace like Gilligans Island, stranded, or worse yet, be eaten by a tribe of headhunters…”

Obama admits security “screw up,” but some wonder who’ll pay

President Barack Obama may have hoped to limit the political fallout from last month’s attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by admitting there was a “screw up.” Will firings follow? Some think Obama’s unusually sharp rhetoric raises the odds that heads will roll.

One such observer is U.S. Rep. Peter King, an influential New York Republican.
“If the situation is as bad as the president says it was, as far as so many dots not being connected, so many obvious mistakes being made … I would think once the president set that stage, that to show that he’s serious, someone will have to go now,” King told ABC’s Good Morning America.

But the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee says he can’t tell which official should pay because the Obama administration hasn’t let Congress know who did (or didn’t) do what, when.

Bomb plot thrusts Obama into political storm

President Barack Obama is weathering a political storm over last month’s suspected al Qaeda plot to bomb a Detroit-bound plane, particularly from Republicans who say he dropped the ball on security while pursuing healthcare and climate reforms. But how much substance there is behind the allegations may depend on who’s talking.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told NBC’s Today show that he believes Obama just woke up to the gravity of the al Qaeda threat. SECURITY-AIRLINE/OBAMA

“A lot of us have been concerned over the last year that the president did seem to downplay the threat of terror. He doesn’t use the word anymore. He hesitates to say that there is a war on terror,” DeMint said.

from Summit Notebook:

Napolitano: recommendations split on threat color system

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says she is reviewing recommendations on the color-coded threat alert system and experts are evenly split over its usefulness.

She said the committee of experts that made the recommendations to her were "equally divided, 50-50" on whether the color-coded threat alert system developed after the Sept. 11 attacks was useful. It currently stands at "yellow" for elevated.

One recommendation the experts gave her is when the code becomes elevated, after a certain number of days it ought to automatically revert back to the lower level unless a decision is made to intentionally leave it higher.