A Florida news station reports on the possibility of terrorist practice runs on DC/Orlando flights. The particulars are kind of weird when presented out of context:
Crew members say that shortly after takeoff, a group of four “Middle Eastern” men caused a commotion.
The witnesses claim one of the men ran from his seat in coach, toward the flight deck door. He made a hard left and entered the forward bathroom “for a considerable length of time.”
While he was in there, the other three men proceeded to move about the cabin, changing seats, opening overhead bins, and “generally making a scene.” They appeared to be trying to occupy and distract the flight attendants.
So, put yourself in the scenario. You’re sitting in your seat, finally got settled in, when suddenly your Sheepdog Awareness Sensor goes off, and you see a brown dude charging toward the cockpit door. Do you A) do nothing, because the dude probably has to hit the head super bad, B) casually trip him because you’re sitting in the aisle like a good Sheepbro, C ) Let him continue but prepare yourself for a fight if things go pear shaped, or D) Go back to your book because the dude clearly needs to use the can.
Now, it’s fairly easy to construct a hypothetical situation where no matter which of the four options you pick it turns out to be wrong, but I’m not interested in creating hypothetical traps. Rather, I’d like you to think about what you can actually do on airplanes. My job means I spend a decent amount of time on commercial aircraft every year, this year I’ll bump a solid 50,000 flight miles. I actually had an incident on a recent flight overseas where a chap of Middle Eastern origin got up, starting making a ruckus and opening overhead bins to the point that the flight attendants had to sort of bump corral him back to his seat. Do I think he was a terrorist? No, I’m pretty sure he was just a rude jerk with very poor manners.
All of this travel time has let me put together a list of a few things that I do to help enhance my personal safety when I’m traveling on commercial airlines. Here are a few tips on airline self-defense that I use.
1. Sit in aisle seats.
If something bad happens, you’re going to need to move. If you’re sitting behind 400 pounds of people in the middle and aisle seats, it’s going to be hard to accomplish anything.
2. Wear pants that stay on without a belt…and wear a belt.
Belts are handy weapons. A bit of leather wrapped around your hand will allow you to deliver a full-force punch to the head and greatly reduce the risk of shattering bones in your hand. This does assume you know how to deliver a proper punch. Even then, a heavy metal belt buckle makes for a reasonable impact weapon in a pinch.
3. Keep the area around your feet clear.
I don’t put a bag under the seat in front of me; primarily because at 5’6 I don’t take up a lot of space anyway so if I keep the under-seat area in front of me clear, I can damn near recline in Economy Plus. It’s quite relaxing. It also means that if I have to get up in a hurry, I’m not going to trip over my laptop bag shoulder strap and faceplant into the lady sitting across the aisle from me.
You’re in a metal tube at 35,000 feet in the air flying over mountains/ocean/farmland. If something truly bad happens, there isn’t going to be much you can do about it. Be ready for what you can do, know your limitations, and enjoy the latest copy of GunUp the Magazine on your iPad.
We spend a lot of time worrying about self-defense and the potential of bad stuff happening. I think it’s just as important to relax and enjoy life as well. I know my capabilities, physically and mentally. In the situation I described above, there were FAMs on the flight that intervened and dealt with the issue. For my part, I probably would have noticed the guys moving around, thought they were jerks, and probably done nothing since they weren’t actually doing anything illegal or dangerous. The real conclusion of this post is something I’ve talked about a lot: know where your lines are. Know what behaviors you’re willing to tolerate and what you won’t; create mental plans for whatever environments you spend a lot of time in.
Make your plans now, because when the moment comes, it will be too late to plan.