Let’s face it — if that Malaysian airliner went missing on television or in the movies, it would be tracked almost immediately by some crackerjack technician. It’s almost like that skit from Saturday Night Live that was on a few weeks ago. A spy leader told one of her operatives: “I want you to get down to Guatemala and put a bug on the prime minister.” Without leaving the room, the spy confidently said, “Done.”
But despite all the movies that portray it so, real life doesn’t work that way. The greatest technicians on earth have not been able to find that plane for two weeks now.
And it strikes me that this whole debacle has exposed air travel in a way that should make everyone uncomfortable.
1. Radar tracking — Why don’t we have any idea where this plane is? Because someone or something (an accident) caused the plane’s transponder to be turned off. With that one flip of the switch, the plane became invisible. In the movies, someone is always tracking a plane in some radar station somewhere but in real life, that is not the case. I have heard there are good reasons why this is so but, come on, we can track virtually anyone with a cell phone. Why can’t we track planes in a similar way?
2. No communication outside the cockpit — To me, this is the scariest detail about the missing airline. Whatever was happening on that plane, surely the flight attendants and some passengers were aware of what was going on. Maybe the pilot locked the co-pilot out when he stepped out to the rest room, maybe a terrorist managed to get into the cockpit, maybe smoke filled the plane…whatever it was, someone outside the cockpit knew about it. But once a plane is above a certain altitude, cell phones do not work (believe me, I’ve tried) and there is no on-board mechanism for flight attendants or anyone outside the cockpit to communicate with the ground. That must change. (Yes, it’s true passengers on board those ill-fated planes called on 9/11 but that’s because they were flying low over or near major cities with plenty of cell phone coverage.) And by the way, it may surprise you but every long-distance international trip I’ve been on did not have internet access so forget that.
3. Passport are not checked?? — Wow, I had no idea that only a handful of countries check passports against lists of stolen passports. I had always thought passports were one of the most thorough checks one could go through. The idea that fewer than five countries bothers to check for stolen passports is mind-boggling. That seems simple enough but yet, it’s not done. I wonder if the terrorists knew that.