When a woman managed to board a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose, California to Los Angeles without a ticket last week, the real story was, of course, about the security breach. The situation brings up some obvious questions: How could something like this happen in post-9/11 America? Don’t we have better security than this? What if she had been violent? What if she had been a terrorist?
But in this story, there are so many additional details it’s impossible to avoid getting caught up in the human drama at play.
The New York Times reported on this particular woman’s personal history. The 62-year-old woman has no family, has lied in the past about having cancer, and has apparently done this kind of thing several times before, once sneaking onto a plane bound for Hawaii. And she doesn’t seem to have any kind of overarching agenda. Maybe she’s stowing away on planes to demonstrate that U.S. airports need to be more careful. Maybe she wants to take a few trips. Or maybe she’s just mentally unstable.
Her motives aside, the security breach is definitely cause for concern. Or is it? According to one airline authority, there wasn’t a security breach at all. Yes, this woman soutgot through certain critical checkpoints. Yes, she made it onto the plane without a ticket. But, it doesn’t really count as a security breach. After all, the screening process ensured she wasn’t carrying prohibited items.
Hmmm. It seems this airline authority is getting caught up in the human drama, too. That’s a convenient way to spin things, but isn’t the stowaway’s mere presence on the plane cause enough for concern (as her subsequent arrest and probation sentence would imply)? And let’s not forget this woman—mild-mannered though she may be—has a criminal past related to her previous stowaway activities.
The details of this particular case make it tempting to downplay what happened. Reports indicate she’s not really a person we need to fear. But the fact is an undocumented person got on a plane and took a flight with other passengers. With that in mind, it doesn’t really matter who that person was later discovered to be. She could have been anyone. She might have been someone else—with a very clearly defined agenda.
Whether it’s labeled a security breach or not, if people can still sneak onto planes there’s a problem. And it calls for tighter security.