CNN reports that a Virgin Airlines flight diverted to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut sat on the tarmac for four hours, without so much as offering water. The excuse used is that the airport is not equipped with a suitable customs facility (Bradley has exactly one connection outside the United States – Toronto), but once again we see an inability to manage risks. What was the risk to passengers versus the risk to others by letting them sit in the terminal until appropriate customs people had arrived?
But our story doesn’t end there. As you may recall, airlines may now be fined for such behavior, but there’s a catch: the rule applies to domestic flights. A Virgin spokesman said that because they are a UK-flagged carrier they are not subject to U.S. laws. If that is indeed the correct logic, and that you’d receive the protection with a US carrier, then Virgin is encouraging you not to fly their airline. Go figure.
Last night we watched the Magdalena Neuner of Germany win the Women’s Biathlon at the Vancouver games. I have only three questions about this event:
With all of those guns, if someone is in front of you, can you shoot them to get ahead? After all, this is a competition?
With all of those guns, where were all of the Americans? Not a single one apparently was in the final. In fact, it seems that this is a Russo-European race. Four continents went completely unrepresented.
With all of those guns, where the heck was James Bond? I kept expecting to seem him cut across the track, while all the competitors from Eastern Europe started aiming at him. THAT would have been entertainment.
(I have no idea why we watched this particular event. We’d just finished watching Slum Dog Millionaire for the first time. That was good.)
If there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s people who don’t learn from their mistakes, and here once again, the TSA has failed to learn. Once again they evacuated a terminal, took many people and crammed them into small spaces, and created a huge target for a bomber, this time in Terminal 8 of JFK. This time the incident occurred because someone went through a door he shouldn’t have gone through.
As you may already know, Newark Airport was in chaos on January 3rd due to a person walking through the exit of the so-called strerile area. The incident occurred around 5:20pm, around the time that we were sitting down for a dinner snack inside. Good thing. We were not to eat on the plane, which was scheduled to leave at 6:50pm. We boarded the plane, the door was closed but we didn’t go anywhere. After a time we were told of the breach. I packed our stuff up. Anyone who read the accidentally released TSA manual as I did would have known that this would happen once we learned that someone had gotten through. Sure enough that’s exactly what happened, which led to the scene depicted to the right, because everyone else was doing exactly the same thing.
This led to thousands of people being crammed into the outside normally insecure areas of Terminal C (I say “normally”) because all passenger areas within the terminal were at this moment insecure), an event for which the airport is unprepared. For one, there aren’t so many bathrooms outside of security. At Terminal C there are no restaurants. Furthermore, it was difficult to move about. Smart and lucky people might have made their way to the AirTrain and perhaps have gotten to Terminal A, where such conveniences could be found.
There were a lot of mistakes made, and many of them have been acknowledged. However, the biggest one has not. By evacuating the terminal in the way that they did, the TSA actually created a huge risk to many thousands of people by concentrating them in a small area. Had a small group of bombers walked into that area, with backpacks, not only could they have killed many people, but they also could have done so and survived. It would be the height of irony if the only portion of that terminal left intact was the secure part, while thousands were injured or worse.
They might even have been able to get away unscathed. Instead of avoiding the threat, the TSA magnified it by their actions. Doing nothing would have been less risky.
“But,” you say, “they had to reclear everyone, didn’t they?” My answer would be that it’s a seemingly nice idea, but it may not be practical. Here are some things the TSA could have done differently:
Use teams of people to clear people at their flights by their gates. This is human intensive and not particularly easy, but it would have at least kept people from having to leave the secured area, and thus contributing to the risk. The interesting thing is that the TSA had a whole lot of staff doing a whole lot of nothing while the passengers were exiting the sterile area. And so they could have implemented this measure in some limited way for flights that were ready to go, where all passengers are accounted for.
Work with the airline to cancel flights. Nobody thought to do this because apparently they didn’t understand the threat. In fact, Continental representatives contributed to the risk by encouraging people to wait and not rebook (more on this some other time). Continental needed to position a lot of planes anyway in order to avoid utter chaos in the coming days.
Use other terminals and/or buses. That is, get people to areas that haven’t been compromised, and then move them to planes. This requires a fair amount of coordination with both the airline and the port authority. Those buses may not even exist at Newark.
But ultimately, there is no perfect answer to the question because each of these solutions costs money, and that requires that someone measure risk. The risk of letting one person through is at most one plane of several hundred people. This is so because the cockpit doors are reinforced. A terrorist might be able to get an explosive on board, but it would be unlikely that he could use it to direct a plane into a population center, which is what Newark Airport Terminal C’s outer areas became. And there is the risk equation.
Now you may say that I contributed to the risk by not leaving the area. True, I did. Indefensible. My wife and daughter should be quite upset with me, especially since I work in the business. Now it’s time for the TSA to own up. Oh, and it’s not just some local TSA guy who they can hoist this one on. Once security was breached, the local teams followed procedures in the manual.
Back in the early 1990s, when Apple saw the threat coming, but didn’t have a decent response, the only resort they had was to sue Microsoft in what became known as a “look and feel” lawsuit. They lost, and their fall from grace continued like a lead balloon. It was only when they came to terms with the fact that they really had no decent products that Steve Jobs was able to rescue the company.
Today, the shoe is on the other foot. Once again, there has been a fall from grace, but this time the one doing the falling is Apple’s disrupted competitor, Nokia. Apple has taken huge swathes of market share away from Nokia because, quite frankly, Nokia phones aren’t what they used to be. They suck in comparison to Apple, and the reason they suck is that they attempted to cater strictly to service providers and not to the people who use the phones. Nokia’s Symbian O/S is slow and uninteresting in comparison to Apple’s OS/X. Their integration with existing products such as the iPod is so limited compared to Apple’s ecosystem as to be entirely insignificant. Nokia’s network functionality was so poor as to be unusable, except for specific applications like Good. Their IMAP functionality was just broken for mailboxes of any size.
And so Nokia has announced that they are suing Apple for infringement of ten patents, since it seems that it is the only way they will make money. I don’t know whether there is any merit to their suit, but I can say two things:
A lawsuit will not help consumers one bit; and
There is a special place in Hell for those who bring lawsuits involving technology that is standardized.
If Apple’s earlier experience is any indicator, Nokia has further to fall. They must stop suing and start innovating and catering to consumers, who Apple rightly recognized were the real customers. Apple has given Nokia a good kick in the pants, but Nokia has a long history of success. They are down but not out. To be out, they need to be thinking about new approaches to the consumer, new ways to attract developers, and it actually all has to work.