What If?

Your Flight is Hi­jacked?

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Contents - By Tim MacWelch Il­lus­tra­tions by Joe Oesterle

Your Flight is Hi­jacked?

As a fre­quent flyer, you’d heard your fair share of com­mo­tions on air­planes. From fight­ing cou­ples to drunken pas­sen­gers — the cramped cabin of a crowded air­plane was hardly a quiet place, even when most of your fel­low trav­el­ers were be­ing re­spect­ful. Yes, you’d been on noisy flights be­fore, but this ruckus was dif­fer­ent.

In the way that a par­ent can dis­tin­guish a child’s cry of pain from a howl of frus­tra­tion, these raised voices con­veyed alarm to you. Turn­ing to your spouse, you asked, “Honey, are you hear­ing this?” She looked up from her book and turned a bit to lis­ten. A mo­ment later, a woman’s pierc­ing scream tore through the low mur­mur of con­ver­sa­tions in coach. It came from the front of the plane, be­hind the first-class cur­tain. You started to stand up in your seat, but your spouse pulled you back down. That was a good thing.

A loud and deep man’s voice boomed just be­hind you. “Stay in seats! We take this plane now!” Cran­ing your neck to see over the seat­back, you saw two men in ski masks, hold­ing a ter­ri­fied flight at­ten­dant. The speaker shouted again, so all could hear “You stay in seats or we blow up plane!”

For this in­stall­ment of RE­COIL OFFGRID’s “What If?” col­umn, the edi­tors have placed us in an air­line hi­jack­ing sce­nario that pushes the bound­aries of pre­pared­ness. And while this sce­nario is a painful re­minder of the life-al­ter­ing events of Sept. 11, it’s also a valu­able teach­ing op­por­tu­nity. Here we’ll share some po­ten­tial strate­gies to fight back against fa­nat­i­cal hi­jack­ers, and we’ll dis­cuss some of the prepa­ra­tions and strate­gies that you might need to em­ploy, should you find your­self in such a dire sit­u­a­tion. Most of us will never for­get Sept. 11, and we should never for­get that this kind of cri­sis can still hap­pen, de­spite all of the ad­vance­ments in air­line se­cu­rity. You never know when one per­son may make all the dif­fer­ence.

The Setup: You and your spouse are en route from Bos­ton to Los Angeles to visit fam­ily for the hol­i­days. Since two of the air­craft that were hi­jacked on Sept. 11 orig­i­nated at Logan In­ter­na­tional Air­port, se­cu­rity here is taken very se­ri­ously. As you pre­pare to board your flight, you feel con­fi­dent that these pro­to­cols would pre­vent an­other such at­tack from hap­pen­ing at this air­port. Af­ter the two of you take your seats, a well­dressed, mid­dle-aged man sits down in your row’s third seat and nods hello. The flight gets un­der­way with­out in­ci­dent.

The Com­pli­ca­tion: About half­way through your roughly six-hour flight, the mood is still and quiet. Sud­denly there’s yelling and com­mo­tion in the first-class sec­tion of the cabin. Ini­tially, given all the cell phone videos posted on the in­ter­net of rowdy pas­sen­gers, you think some­one may just have had a lit­tle too much to drink. The com­mo­tion and ar­gu­ing es­ca­lates, and you now hear scream­ing. Peo­ple start to rise from their seats to see what’s hap­pen­ing.

Sud­denly, from the rear of the cabin, you hear a shout and two men start ad­dress­ing the pas­sen­gers in bro­ken English to re­main seated or they’ll det­o­nate a bomb on the plane. The two men are wear­ing ski masks, and one of them has a knife to a flight at­ten­dant’s throat. The men start yelling at the pas­sen­gers to stay seated or they’ll be killed. The other man starts mov­ing for­ward to­ward the cock­pit with what ap­pears to be a large, non-fer­rous knife, while the first man re­mains in the rear hold­ing the flight at­ten­dant as his hostage.

You’re clearly in a hi­jack­ing sit­u­a­tion. You also feel that the plane may be de­scend­ing and de­vi­at­ing from its pre­vi­ous course.

You’re midair dur­ing this hi­jack­ing at­tempt, and ac­cord­ing to the flight tracker on the back of the seat in front of you, you be­lieve you’re just east of Colorado.

You’ve no idea if they’ve man­aged to gain ac­cess to the cock­pit. It’s not yet pos­si­ble to dis­cern if they plan to di­vert the flight to an air­port and hold ev­ery­one on board hostage, use it as a guided mis­sile, or some­thing else en­tirely. What are your op­tions? Re­main com­pli­ant? Is the bomb threat le­git or a ploy to scare ev­ery­one? Can you at­tempt to call out us­ing the jet’s Wi-Fi or any other com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice you might have brought? Do you try to sub­due one of the at­tack­ers and hope oth­ers will join in or that an air mar­shal is on board? If so, what can you use as a weapon?

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