Cell Phones, Batteries & Blame

In an article that appeared in today’s issue of USA Today, Are Lithium-Ion Batteries the Next Threat to Airline Safety? Gary Stoller recounts the incident in which American Airline Flight Attendants confiscated 58 lithium-ion batteries, cell phones and other electronic devices from one passenger during their flight from New York City to Buenos Aires on June 23 of this year. This group of airline attendants used common sense, notified the captain of their suspicions, followed his direction and confiscated the large potentially deadly combination of electronic devices and batteries from the passenger. I use the term ‘potentially deadly’ because increasing numbers of incidents involving the same combinations of electronic devices and lithium-ion batteries, rechargeable and non-rechargeable are happening around the world. If the passenger luggage that was being off-loaded from an American Airlines flight Tokyo, Japan had burst into flames a few minutes earlier the plane would have still been in flight and quite possibly could have not only incinerated the plane, crew and passengers, but could have caused the plane to be yet another weapon and fly into the terminal killing thousands of unsuspecting travelers.

Who is at fault here? The flight attendants should be the back-up security force, don’t you think? What happened to TSA at the security check-point? What happened to the TSA who is supposed to be x-raying the checked luggage before it is even loaded onto the plane?  I have to agree with former FAA security director when he said TSA needs to use more common sense when screening passengers at the airport. The weakest link in any security force is its lowest paid, least trained individual. So just how many of these are out there? I have no idea, but, at the very least there exist 113, which, according to Stoller, is the number of potential terrorist crisis over the past five months involving lithium-ion batteries and electronic devices that have been averted.

I would really like to know what was going through the mind of the TSA agent who was reading the scan monitor and saw the 58 cell phones, electronic devices and lithium-ion batteries all piled into one bin. Truly, I don’t get it; how did this mound of electronics get through security. Oh, that’s right, they are not supposed to profile, so they just look the other way while a potential terrorist essentially says, here’s my bomb. Give me a break. But in all seriousness, let’s take it a step farther. Where does the blame lie?

Since at the airport the TSA is in effect the first line of defense between the outside world and those who pass through the checkpoint, could it be construed in a court of law as aiding and abetting if a TSA agent, or group of agents allowed, or better yet, willfully allows a passenger to cross through the security checkpoint with an excessive number electronic devices and lithium-ion batteries? Could it be termed reckless endangerment if the TSA checked baggage screeners allowed large amounts of electronics and batteries all packed together to pass through to be loaded onto a jetliner?  Or is it just willful neglect. Just who is keeping watch anyway? Obviously people who are not well trained or people who simply do not care. Personally, I want well trained individuals who care about my safety and well being to be the ones doing all of the screening. My concern is that TSA agents are too consumed with having no accountability for their lack of action that the problem will only get worse.

One more thing: someone needs to make a decision once and for all that a passengers and their checked luggage needs to match – they both need to travel together. Speaking as a world traveler, this is not happening.

Lane Taylor