United flight 1074 from Washington Dulles to Denver returned to DC last night after a passenger apparently charged the cockpit.
Several other passengers restrained the man until the aircraft made it back to Dulles. Police met the aircraft and took the individual to a hospital for evaluation.
Here’s video from the incident:
It turns out not to have been a good day for United. One of their flights diverted to Tokyo and passengers weren’t allowed to leave the terminal for 18 hours, while crew were permitted to go to a hotel and rest.
Here’s the interesting thing, to me, about the Dulles – Denver flight. Passengers restrained the individual who stormed the cockpit. And this is no longer an uncommon occurrence (passengers storming the cockpit is rare, but other passengers restraining unruly individuals is not).
That is what changed with 9/11. Passengers used to be docile in the face of threats, and cockpit crew used to comply with demands. The assumption is that someone taking control of an aircraft meant diverting it, and likely eventually releasing everyone unharmed in exchange for money and fuel. Now the assumption is that taking a plane means using the aircraft itself for nefarious purposes, with huge risk to the passengers.
That shift in mindset actually:
- Makes us more safe. There are a whole lot more passengers than there are going to be individuals trying to take control of the aircraft.
- Makes terrorism less likely. Since they can no longer count on compliant passengers, passengers fighting back increases risk and reduces chances of success.
Pilots are no longer instructed to let terrorists wielding weapons into the cockpit, either, and we’ve reinforced cockpit doors to keep them out.
Those two shifts make it very difficult to commandeer an aircraft. It should be no surprise, then, that the TSA has never caught a terrorist but that we don’t have frequent incidents.