Boeing Employees Mocked F.A.A. and Clowns Who Designed 737 Max

Poster Child For Corporate Welfare

The New York Times reports:

Boeing employees mocked federal rules, talked about deceiving regulators and joked about potential flaws in the 737 Max as it was being developed, according to over a hundred pages of internal messages delivered Thursday to congressional investigators.

“I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year,” one of the employees said in messages from 2018, apparently in reference to interactions with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The most damaging messages included conversations among Boeing pilots and other employees about software issues and other problems with flight simulators for the Max, a plane later involved in two accidents, in late 2018 and early 2019, that killed 346 people and threw the company into chaos.

The employees appear to discuss instances in which the company concealed such problems from the F.A.A. during the regulator’s certification of the simulators, which were used in the development of the Max, as well as in training for pilots who had not previously flown a 737.
“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to a colleague in another exchange from 2018, before the first crash. “No,” the colleague responded.

In another set of messages, employees questioned the design of the Max and even denigrated their own colleagues. “This airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys,” an employee wrote in an exchange from 2017.

In several instances, Boeing employees insulted the F.A.A. officials reviewing the plane.

In an exchange from 2015, a Boeing employee said that a presentation the company gave to the F.A.A. was so complicated that, for the agency officials and even himself, “it was like dogs watching TV.”

Several employees seemed consumed with limiting training for airline crews to fly the plane, a significant victory for Boeing that would benefit the company financially. In the development of the Max, Boeing had promised to offer Southwest a discount of $1 million per plane if regulators required simulator training.

(click here to continue reading Boeing Employees Mocked F.A.A. and ‘Clowns’ Who Designed 737 Max – The New York Times.)

Approaching Dusk Over Boeing

Boeing has a real mess on its hands. Any future aircraft malfunction already has plenty of evidence of malfeasance ready to be presented in court. 

Would you feel comfortable flying a Boeing 737 Max? I know I wouldn’t.

Nothing’s Happened In A Million Years

Boeing “expresses regret” about the communications being made public. Err, their PR team told them to say this:

Boeing on Thursday expressed regret over the messages. “These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing’s interactions with the F.A.A. in connection with the simulator qualification process,” the company said in a statement to Congress. “Having carefully reviewed the issue, we are confident that all of Boeing’s Max simulators are functioning effectively.”

“We regret the content of these communications, and apologize to the F.A.A., Congress, our airline customers and to the flying public for them,” Boeing added. “The language used in these communications, and some of the sentiments they express, are inconsistent with Boeing values, and the company is taking appropriate action in response. This will ultimately include disciplinary or other personnel action, once the necessary reviews are completed.”

Ok. Crisis solved!

Flying With iPads – A Pilot’s Perspective

Pip and his iPad

Even pilots don’t understand the “turn off all electronic devices” rule…

It’s somewhat ironic that American Airlines is loading more of its cockpits with iPads at roughly the same time that Alec Baldwin got kicked off for using his iDevice. But, American Airlines insists there are a lot of benefits to using Apple’s tablets as opposed to paper. First and foremost, the iPad replaces 45 pounds worth of paper for each pilot on a plane. If American is able to use iPads on every flight — its eventual goal — it stands to reduce its fuel usage by 500,000 gallons each year.

“That’s a significant savings,” said David Clark, the American pilot that is heading up the iPad effort. For the past six months, American has been testing iPad use on 777 flights out of Los Angeles–some 300 flights in all. As of last Friday, American has approval to use the iPads on all of its Boeing 777 aircraft for all phases of flight and Clark said the airline expects approval to use the tablets on 737s next year.

To answer every frequent flyer’s question, no, Clark isn’t really sure why the rest of us can’t use our iPads during takeoff and landing.

“I think that’s a fair and a good question,” Clark said. “First and foremost, the FAA makes the rules and we follow them.”

That being said, though, Clark notes that American Airlines did a lot of testing with the iPad and it is used only with all of its transmitting functions — including WiFi — turned off. At the back of the plane, Clark said, there can be any number of devices in use by dozens of passengers, making it hard to test for every possible scenario.

As for the pilots and their iPads, Clark said everything has gone swimmingly, Clark said. In general, even those who have never touched an iPad only need a half-hour or hour of training. “That speaks to the operating system,” Clark said.

(click here to continue reading American Airlines Top iPad Pilot Talks About Trading Paper for Electro – Ina Fried – Mobile – AllThingsD.)

Reading Around on October 13th through October 14th

A few interesting links collected October 13th through October 14th:

  • F.A.A. Proposes Fines for United and US Airways – – $3.8 million fine against United for operating one of its Boeing 737 aircraft on more than 200 flights with shop towels covering openings in an engine,
  • Critics’ Picks: Call it the “liberal Bible” | Salon Arts & Entertainment
  • “Life of the World to Come (Dig)” (Mountain Goats)

    “Darnielle claims he’s always been fascinated by religious texts, but up until now more secular fixations have dominated his music: Ruptured relationships, literary heroes and his own difficult childhood are among the most common subjects of nearly two decades’ worth of studiously lo-fi Mountain Goats songs. And, as a die-hard black metal fan who, last year, published a short novel based on Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality,” Darnielle may seem a particularly unlikely candidate to explore the spiritual.”

    “Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality: 33 1/3” (John Darnielle)

    Didn’t know who wrote this book, just thought it unreadable. I got through about ten pages before tossing it to the floor in disgust. Maybe there is more to it, but it wasn’t obvious.

A New Route to Ease Plane Congestion

A glimmer of hope for frequent fliers in the US, if the FDA can get off their asses and dance with the new technology

U.S. airlines and the FAA are phasing in a new navigation system that has already proved it can reduce weather delays, shave minutes off flight times and reduce noise pollution on the ground.

“Required Navigation Performance,” or RNP, is already in use in parts of China, Australia, Canada and Alaska. U.S. airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are working to expand it to major U.S. airports. Southwest Airlines, for example, will have all its planes and pilots ready next year. Washington’s Reagan National Airport already has an RNP procedure in place.

The plan in the U.S. is to attack the most congested cities first, starting with New York and Chicago. “We’ll apply it where the need is greatest to start,” said Victoria Cox, FAA senior vice president for “NextGen” air-traffic modernization.

Think of RNP as precision navigation. Using two different kinds of standard navigation equipment, the newest generation of Boeing and Airbus jets have the ability to fly an exact path with deviation of no more than the wingspan of the airplane. RNP routes take advantage of that equipment by creating very precise flight paths that require computers on board to alert pilots if the plane strays. No ground-based equipment like radar and instrument landing systems is needed. The plane’s autopilot can put the aircraft at an exact position within seconds of an assigned time.

[Click to continue reading A New Route to Ease Plane Congestion –]

Circumstances Beyond Our Control - oil paint

[not related, but hey, my blog, my rules…]

Waiting for Baggage -TRI-X 400

Waiting for Baggage -TRI-X 400, originally uploaded by swanksalot.


The dude stormed off cursing when his bag turned up lost.

Our luggage was delayed too. At first, the American Airline agent said our bag was on the flight that left immediately after ours, and thus our miscreant bag would arrive in a few moments. After filling out some paperwork, decided to wait the few moments.

In actuality, the baggage carousel was just frozen and inoperable. They fixed it, and the last suitcase was the first one out of the door.

Might have been due to the TSA inspecting it (there was one of those “Notice of Baggage Inspection” notes in both of my suitcases – the suitcase with my clothes, and the delayed suitcase with mostly all business related papers).

This angry man in the photo didn’t wait for his bag though, just stormed off cursing at the incompetence of American Airlines.

United Airline engine trouble

United Airline engine trouble, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

Our flight out of O’Hare was delayed by a couple hours, but once we left the ground, all went smoothly.

eventually had to change planes. Looked to me as if the same plane was still at O’Hare when I got back three days later.

United Shares Fall to Nothing

Yikes, we’re supposed to fly home on United tomorrow. That’s not such good timing. Good thing I brought an extra set of clothes…

Shares of United Airlines lost nearly all their value Monday morning when a false rumor swept financial markets that the struggling carrier had filed for bankruptcy protection.

In a statement, United said the rumor occurred when the Web site of The Sun-Sentinel, a Florida newspaper, posted a six-year-old story from The Chicago Tribune archives about United’s previous bankruptcy filing. The airline operated under bankruptcy protection from 2002 through 2006.

“United has demanded a retraction from The Sun Sentinel and is launching an investigation,” the airline said in a statement.

On its Web site, however, The Chicago Tribune reported a different set of events. The Tribune said a reporter for Income Securities Advisors, an investment research firm based in Miami, found a Tribune article in the Sun-Sentinel archives during a search for information about bankruptcy situations. The reporter at Income Securities posted the article to Bloomberg News, and the rumor then spread rapidly, The Tribune said.

The article did not appear on the Web site of The Chicago Tribune or The Sun-Sentinel, people with knowledge of the situation said. The Tribune said it had removed the article from its archives.

[From United Shares Fall on False Bankruptcy Report –]

The share price has nearly recovered however as of this afternoon, and somebody made a ton of cash shorting, then repurchasing shares. I wonder if there will be a criminal investigation? Also, I presume there will be a lawsuit filed against the Sun-Sentinel by United Airlines.

TSA and the Culture of Fear

Speaking of the unreasonable growth of federal bureaucracy, one the Bush-ites longest living legacies is going to be the Transportation Security Administration, and their ridiculous policies. Terrorism theater does nothing to impede terrorists, just annoys passengers.

At this point, the Transportation Security Administration’s policies in general are wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to get one’s arms around them. My apologies to those who’ve tired of my harping on this subject in column after column, but here again are the bullet points:

  • Sharp, potentially dangerous objects can be fashioned from virtually anything, including no shortage of materials found on board any jetliner — to say nothing of the fact that a copycat takeover in the style of Sept. 11 would be almost impossible for terrorists to pull off, regardless of what weapons they possess. Yet we insist on wasting huge amounts of time digging through people’s belongings, looking for what are effectively benign items.

  • Almost as senseless are the liquids and gels restrictions. Experts have pointed out the futility of these measures, yet they remain in place. (Still more from TSA’s you-can’t-make-this-up list of airport contraband: gel shoe inserts.)

  • TSA’s approach is fundamentally flawed in that it treats everybody — from employees to passengers, old and young, domestic and foreign — as a potential threat. We are all suspects. Together with a preposterous zero-tolerance approach to weapons, be they real or perceived, this has created a colossal apparatus that strives for the impossible.

I can’t disagree that some level of screening will always be important. Explosives and firearms, for instance, need to be kept off airplanes. But the existing rules are so heavy-handed, absolute and illogical as to be ultimately unenforceable.

You would think, nearly seven years after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, that TSA would have gotten its act together. Not just tactically, but functionally. Take a look at the typical checkpoint. There are people yelling, bags falling, trash bins overflowing with water bottles. There’s nowhere to stand, nowhere to move. It’s a jury-rigged circus.

But we should hardly be surprised, perhaps, at the Frankenstein monster now before us. Propped up by a culture of fear, TSA has become a bureaucracy with too much power and little accountability. It almost makes you wonder if the Department of Homeland Security made a conscious decision to present bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance as the public face of TSA, hoping that people would then raise enough of a fuss that it could be turned over to the likes of Halliburton. (Funny, how despite this administration’s eagerness to outsource anything and everything, it’s kept its governmental talons wrapped snugly around TSA.)

Except there is no fuss. Serious protest has been all but nil. The airlines, biggest losers in all of this, remain strangely quiet. More and more people are choosing not to fly, and checkpoint hassles are one of the reasons. Yet the industry appears to have little concern while an out-of-control agency delays and aggravates its customers.

And it’s going to get worse, not better. As I’m sure you’ve heard, TSA is deploying body scanners that can see through clothing. It is also implementing gate-side luggage checks similar to those that were common in the days following Sept. 11. After proceeding through the main screening checkpoint, selected passengers will be enjoying a second one just before boarding.

[From Patrick Smith, Ask the pilot | Propped up by a culture of fear, TSA has become a bureaucracy with too much power and little accountability. Where will the lunacy stop?]

Liquids, shoes, butter knives, what an unfunny joke. Patrick Smith tells the anecdote that, even as a pilot, he wasn’t allowed to bring a butter knife through screening, regardless of the fact the knife was given to him on a previous plane.

Saturday Morning Lines
[Saturday Morning Lines, not an airport, but might as well be]

FAA doesn’t care if you die

Safety regulations are not important to the FAA. Much more important is making the airlines happy because that way ex-FAA officials can get cushy airline industry jobs when they resign in disgrace.

In July 1996, a fuel-tank explosion ripped apart TWA Flight 800, killing all 230 people aboard and sparking an urgent call from air-safety experts to find a fail-safe way to avoid a repeat tragedy.

Twelve years later, they’re still waiting.

Experts quickly and broadly agreed that like TWA 800’s main fuel tank, those on thousands of other planes were at risk of exploding during normal operations if hot vapors became exposed to sparks or electrical short-circuits. Within months, federal investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board called for a sweeping retrofit of planes with “fundamentally flawed” fuel-tank designs. Independent safety experts called such changes essential.

But the issue has bogged down for more than a decade inside the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency charged with regulating U.S. airlines. Manufacturers argued the proposed fix was unnecessary, while carriers called it marginal and too expensive. They repeatedly persuaded the FAA to delay, revise or scale back its plans. While the industry has reduced the danger of fuel-tank accidents, whatever “foolproof” plan the agency ultimately imposes will come too late to affect many jetliners now in service.

The fuel-tank issue is just one of the major initiatives to stall at the FAA, which finds itself in the spotlight following a series of safety lapses that came to light this spring. Even when change is clearly needed, critics say, the agency can be reluctant to challenge the industry’s strongly held positions.

The FAA has failed to make good on longstanding promises to quickly modernize air-traffic control systems and to institute effective technology to prevent aircraft from colliding on busy runways. In 1995, the FAA proposed sweeping changes to address chronic pilot fatigue. Airlines resisted, and 13 years later, the FAA is still waiting for carriers and pilot unions to reach compromises on crew scheduling.

Failure to take an aggressive stand on some of the toughest safety issues could end up costing lives, critics say. Too often, they say, the agency is hobbled by bureaucratic inertia and a lack of political will, with FAA leaders more focused on cooperative efforts than on taking a hard line on a change-resistant industry.

[From Safety Pushes Stall at Embattled FAA –]

Gee, I feel so much safer knowing the FAA is so cozy with the industry it is in charge of regulating. I’ll be thinking of them next time I have to fly somewhere, and am already nervously twitching my legs and self-medicating drinking herbal tea.

Full access to complete story for non WSJ subscribers available using this link

Remember this?

the shortcomings of the FAA’s partnership approach became apparent earlier this year. In March, the FAA proposed a record $10.2 million penalty against Southwest Airlines Co., after revelations that the carrier had missed mandatory maintenance work. Shortly afterward, FAA whistleblowers alleged that cozy ties between the airline and some local inspectors had allowed the carrier to keep these planes flying. A few weeks later the FAA also found maintenance lapses at AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, forcing the carrier to cancel thousands of flights over several days

You are now free to take a flying leap

Flight 1053

at a rolling donut. Though the original Kurt Vonnegut phrase was something more like “take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.” The hole in this instance is customer service, by the way, which if you have flown recently, you already knew.

Did you hear the one about the passenger who was charged an extra $15 by the airline to lose his first checked bag? And another $25 for a second bag mistakenly loaded onto an airliner to Calcutta instead of Cincinnati?

That might sound like a Jay Leno monologue, but a disgruntled frequent flier delivered it at a forum Tuesday in Chicago sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation for consumers to air their gripes.

The message from airlines wasn’t reassuring either. Essentially, they said, if you think it’s bad now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. They warned of shrinking service and higher fees for everything from preassigned seats to bottled water.

Airline representatives defended overbooking flights, saying…

[From You are now free to take a flying leap —]

saying: it is your fault for flying with us in the first place. Haven’t you heard of trains, and video-conferencing?

and got to love this claim:

Airlines and government representatives at the forum maintained that a passenger bill of rights, which has never passed Congress, is unnecessary because the industry can regulate itself.

Yeah, right, that’s why everyone who flies and/or works for an airline is so happy all the time.

Air Travel Sucks

Flight 1053

Survey says…

Nearly half of American air travelers would fly more if it were easier, and more than one-fourth said they skipped at least one air trip in the past 12 months because of the hassles involved, according to an industry survey.

The Travel Industry Association, which commissioned the survey released Thursday, estimated that the 41 million forgone trips cost the travel industry $18.1 billion — including $9.4 billion to airlines, $5.6 billion to hotels and $3.1 billion — and it cost federal, state and local authorities $4.2 billion in taxes in the past 12 months.

When 28 percent of air travelers avoided an average of 1.3 trips each, that resulted in 29 million leisure trips and 12 million business trips not being taken, the researchers estimated.

[From Survey: Americans make 41M fewer air trips — Lifestyle and Leisure, Delta Air Lines —]

I travel a lot less than I used to. Just too much of a hassle. Investigated taking trains (haven’t done that yet, but still thinking about a trip out west, or to Austin), investigated investing/subscribing to web conference software to avoid business travel, and just avoid vacations that involve air travel. Everything about the experience is miserable, TSA terrorism theater, surly airline employees, worries about airline mechanics skimping on proper maintenance, constant delays due to decades old software, yadda yadda. Flying on The Starship it ain’t.

Is re-regulation an answer? Nobody mentions it, and maybe it was just coincidence, but when the airlines were regulated, pre-Regan, flying sure seemed a lot more fun, and smooth. The airlines would be better served if competition wasn’t so cut-throat (and CEO compensation wasn’t so enormous, but that’s a different topic), they obviously are in trouble as matters stand.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based association, said the research “should be a wake-up call to America’s policy leaders that the time for meaningful air system reform is now.”

“The air travel crisis has hit a tipping point — more than 100,000 travelers each day are voting with their wallets by choosing to avoid trips,” Dow said in a statement.

That’s a big blow to airlines, many of which are losing money as the industry struggles with soaring fuel costs. Carriers have raised fares, added fees, cut capacity and scaled back expansion plans, and some small airlines have declared bankruptcy, while Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. announced plans to combine in an effort to reduce costs.

Continued Decline of Reliability at Airports

How about re-regulating the airlines altogether?

Air-traffic controllers are leaving their jobs at the fastest rate since President Reagan fired more than 12,000 striking controllers 27 years ago, spurring a rancorous debate over the safety of commercial aviation. But for fliers, the turnover is more likely to affect when their flight arrives than whether it gets there safely.

[From At Airports, Fewer Eyes on the Skies –]

Oh really? Says who?

In recent months, fully certified controllers have been retiring in droves. Some of this was expected since many controllers hired after the 1981 air-traffic controller strike are becoming eligible to retire. But the retirement surge has accelerated beyond the Federal Aviation Administration’s projections because of a bitter labor feud that has dragged on since 2006.

In January, there were roughly 11,000 fully certified controllers, marking the lowest level in more than a decade. In September 2002, the FAA employed 12,801 fully certified controllers.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents the FAA’s work force of roughly 15,000 fully and partially certified controllers, has declared staffing emergencies at high-intensity facilities in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Southern California. It calls the loss of so many veteran controllers a “growing crisis” amid surging traffic volumes and a big, hidden factor behind the persistent delays plaguing air travel.

The FAA acknowledges that shortages in the control tower can cause delays

Pilots resigning/retiring, not enough mechanics to service the planes, and now, not enough air traffic controllers? What is going to take to restore trust in airlines/airports? Is there going to be a huge catastrophe before any politician decides to take action?

Union officials also contend the shortage of fully trained controllers — those who have been trained to perform all the major control functions — is increasing the odds that a fatigued controller working overtime will make a catastrophic mistake.

“It’s amazing that it hasn’t happened so far,” Mr. Ramsden said. “The staffing issue has a direct impact on the safety of the public. It has to.”

Terrorism Theater

Here’s why I hate to fly, post 9/11. All of the counter-terrorism measures enacted at US airports are just prop-comic jokes – supremely unfunny ones to boot. Shoe bombs? Liquid explosives? Only on television or in James Bonds films, not practical in the real world. Restricting wine openers and cuticle scissors? Ridiculous. One can make a deadly weapon out of a myriad of devices, including a credit card or a photo id! Try bending a card you no longer need in half, that sucker quickly becomes a sharp, sharp blade. Confiscating bottles of liquid in huge garbage barrels? If the bottles of water are so dangerous, why are they kept in the crowded areas of airports for hours? Obviously nobody is really scared of these liquids, yet the TSA guards become rapidly belligerent if one attempts to notice this fact, or any other inane Terrorism Theater prop.

Does any of the Terrorism Theater Kabuki make us safer? Doubtful.

Had Enough for a Long Time

Patrick Smith (a commercial pilot) explores the topic in detail:

But of all the contradictions and self-defeating measures T.S.A. has come up with, possibly none is more blatantly ludicrous than the policy decreeing that pilots and flight attendants undergo the same x-ray and metal detector screening as passengers. What makes it ludicrous is that tens of thousands of other airport workers, from baggage loaders and fuelers to cabin cleaners and maintenance personnel, are subject only to occasional random screenings when they come to work.

These are individuals with full access to aircraft, inside and out. Some are airline employees, though a high percentage are contract staff belonging to outside companies. The fact that crew members, many of whom are former military fliers, and all of whom endured rigorous background checks prior to being hired, are required to take out their laptops and surrender their hobby knives, while a caterer or cabin cleaner sidesteps the entire process and walks onto a plane unimpeded, nullifies almost everything our T.S.A. minders have said and done since September 11th, 2001. If there is a more ringing let-me-get-this-straight scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.

I’m not suggesting that the rules be tightened for non-crew members so much as relaxed for all accredited workers. Which perhaps urges us to reconsider the entire purpose of airport security:

[Click to read more of The Airport Security Follies – Jet Lagged – Air Travel – Opinion – New York Times Blog]

I just drive, or don’t go at all, if at all possible.

FAA Official to Lead Industry Group

No possibility of conflict of interest here. Ahem.

I think government officials should be barred from employment in the sector they regulate for ten years, or even forever. The so-called revolving door has been standard for years, and it stinks like crony capitalism by a different name to me.

Navy Plane

F.A.A. Chief to Lead Industry Group:
Marion C. Blakey, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, will become the new head of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group representing civilian and military aerospace companies, in November, the association said. Ms. Blakey, who led the National Transportation Safety Board before joining the F.A.A., was appointed by President Bush to a five-year term. Her term expires Sept. 13. The term of a successor would fall mostly in the next presidential administration. The White House has not announced an intention to nominate a successor.

Eroded Civil Liberties

Truly scary story below. Soon after 9/11, I suspected I was on some list as every time I flew, I was pulled aside and given increased scrutiny. I never missed a flight, but still after 12 straight occurrences (6 flights), I started to worry. However, in my case, (knock on wood-related object), apparently, they cleared me off of the ‘suspect’ list, as I haven’t been searched for the last several flights.

Mr. Moore’s trouble sound a lot worse….
Bush's Brain
James Moore

The Blog | James Moore: Branded | The Huffington Post:

…This week last year I was preparing for a trip to Ohio to conduct interviews and research for a new book I was writing. My airline tickets had been purchased on line and the morning of departure I went to the Internet to print out my boarding pass. I got a message that said, “Not Allowed.” Several subsequent tries failed. Surely, I thought, it’s just a glitch within the airline’s servers or software.
I made it a point to arrive very early at the airport. My reservation was confirmed before I left home. I went to the electronic kiosk and punched in my confirmation number to print out my boarding pass and luggage tags. Another error message appeared, “Please see agent.”

I did. She took my Texas driver’s license and punched in the relevant information to her computer system.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “There seems to be a problem. You’ve been placed on the No Fly Watch List.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m afraid there isn’t much more that I can tell you,” she explained. “It’s just the list that’s maintained by TSA to check for people who might have terrorist connections.”

“You’re serious?”

“I’m afraid so, sir. Here’s an 800 number in Washington. You need to call them before I can clear you for the flight.”

Exasperated, I dialed the number from my cell, determined to clear up what I was sure was a clerical error. The woman who answered offered me no more information than the ticket agent.

“Mam, I’d like to know how I got on the No Fly Watch List.”

“I’m not really authorized to tell you that, sir,” she explained after taking down my social security and Texas driver’s license numbers.

“What can you tell me?”

“All I can tell you is that there is something in your background that in some way is similar to someone they are looking for.”

“Well, let me get this straight then,” I said. “Our government is looking for a guy who may have a mundane Anglo name, who pays tens of thousands of dollars every year in taxes, has never been arrested or even late on a credit card payment, is more uninteresting than a Tupperware party, and cries after the first two notes of the national anthem? We need to find this guy. He sounds dangerous to me.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve already told you everything I can.”

“Oh, wait,” I said. “One last thing: this guy they are looking for? Did he write books critical of the Bush administration, too?”

I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be told the official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the information. Nothing I have done has moved me any closer to getting off the list. There were 35,000 Americans in that database last year. According to a European government that screens hundreds of thousands of American travelers every year, the list they have been given to work from has since grown to 80,000.

My friends tell me it is just more government incompetence. A tech buddy said there’s no one in government smart enough to write a search algorithm that will find actual terrorists, so they end up with authors of books criticizing the Bush White House. I have no idea what’s going on.

I suppose I should think of it as a minor sacrifice to help keep my country safe. Not being able to print out boarding passes in advance and having to get to the airport three hours early for every flight is hardly an imposition compared to what Americans are enduring in Iraq. I can force myself to get used to all that extra attention from the guy with the wand whenever I walk through the electronic arches. I’m just doing my patriotic duty.

Of course, there’s always the chance that the No Fly Watch List is one of many enemies lists maintained by the Bush White House. If that’s the case, I am happy to be on that list. I am in good company with people who expect more out of their president and their government.

Hell, maybe I’ll start thinking of it as an honor roll.

found via Tom Tomorrow
home of this great sticker:
Nixon V Bush - available at