Tuesday, July 3, 2007

False Alarm Hysteria Grounds British Airlines

Heathrow scare traps thousands as 150 jets are grounded
Tens of thousands of holidaymakers were stranded last night as a series of bomb-scares swept the country.

Police swooped on airports, railway stations and the underground network as reports of suspect packages and suspicious behaviour flooded in.

The worst chaos was at Britain's busiest airport terminal as thousands of summer holidaymakers were evacuated when a man was seen running from security checks.

Some passengers were forced out into the pouring rain at Heathrow's Terminal 4 where more than 150 cancelled flights that left more than 20,000 stranded.
Travellers were surrounded by armed police carrying machine guns and herded into outside car parks as flights to the U.S., Canada, Africa and Asia were axed along with host short-haul flights to Europe.
There's no point being subtle, is there?
There were also dramatic scenes at Victoria Station in London where a suspect car was reported. Police, the fire brigade, sniffer dogs, paramedics and a bomb disposal team were all called to what turned out to be a false alarm.
No, no point at all, unfortunately. There's no incentive for the police or the media to downplay anything; quite the contrary.
Parts of London's Underground were also shut down in the morning when a suspect package was discovered at Hammersmith Station.

The station, along with nearby Baron's Court station, was shut down and a controlled explosion was carried out shortly after 9am in the heart of the rush hour.
I wonder whether the detonation involved any explosives in the suspect package, or whether they just blew it up because they didn't know what it was. Probably the latter.
The night before, a Polish man caused a security-alert at Stansted Airport in Essex by leaving an unattended bag outside the terminal. An area around the suspect luggage was cordoned off and bomb disposal experts were called in.
And then what?
Similar scares threaten a summer of misery as security is stepped up across the country in the wake of the failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow.

Lin Homer, chief executive of the Government's new Border and Immigration Agency, said she made 'no apology' for putting safety first.

She said: 'We check people based on risk and not on queues. Our objective is to secure our borders, and tougher checks on people entering the UK can mean longer queues.'
Yep. Right-oh, guv! We'll stand on queue all day and night if it makes traveling safer. Or even if you just tell us it makes traveling safer. Yuk yuk yuk, where's my ten quid?

A second opinion is called for, and here's one from the future! (It's tomorrow down under, so this report from Australia is dated July 4th):

Bomb scare chaos at London's Heathrow
London's Heathrow airport reopened a busy, international terminal today after a security scare led to the cancellation of more than 100 flights.

Thousands of passengers were evacuated from terminal four after a suspect bag was found just before midday, the airport's operator BAA, a unit of Spanish infrastructure and construction company Grupo Ferrovial, said.

Police also ordered the evacuation of the departure lounge so that all passengers could be searched a second time.

The terminal reopened just after 5pm.

Flights arriving at the terminal, which handles only international flights, were not affected.

British Airways, the main operator at the terminal, said it had cut 108 flights after cancelling all its European departures from the terminal for the day, as well as all long-haul flights due to depart between 3pm and 9pm.

At least seven transatlantic flights to the United States were cancelled, stranding American passengers hoping to return for July 4 Independence Day celebrations.
How convenient! Direct impact on American tourists means direct impact on American public opinion, which is virtually the only group still taking this stuff seriously -- even if it is legit!

Meanwhile, were there any explosives found? Was there anything involved in this series of alarms except thoroughly false ones? Were the failed attacks of the London and Glasgow car-bombs last weekend legitimate or phony? We may never know the answers to any of these questions, but it won't matter, because the fear cycle is already well underway.

So it appears that Lin Homer had it right with "We check people based on risk and not on queues." Because if the authorities can control the risks, they can also control the queues ... and the people who form them ... and their friends and neighbors!

Oops! I wasn't supposed to say that, was I?