Sneaking onto airplanes without a ticket isn’t supposed to fly but apparently it’s no big deal as long as you claim cancer.
Earlier this month, a 62-year-old woman reportedly tried three separate times only a few days apart to sneak onto Hawaii-bound flights out of San Francisco International Airport. The first time she actually made in onboard until — oopsie! — the actual seat holder showed up and threw a little salt in her game. Let’s hope she at least went for first class. If you’re going to skirt the law, go big or go home. In her case, after being escorted from the plane that’s exactly where she went.
The next two times she was stopped at the security gate although she gets credit for once trying to use a discarded boarding pass belonging to someone else. The third try was far from a charm and airport police actually arrested her.
Let’s think about this a minute. This woman who I’m assuming has no secret stealthy ninja skills or invisibility cloak was able to sashay through several security checks — at least the first time around — and get onto a plane with no problem. Meanwhile, when I brave the airport, the Transportation Security Administration leaves no stone unturned. They look down at my pass, then up to me, then down to the driver’s license, then back to my face and then over to the pass where they scribble some very important lines and dots that resemble chicken scratch. The next fleet of agents who we’ve been led to believe are the only thing standing between us and the big, bad terrorists then go to town throwing out the oversized sunscreen and inspecting the toothpaste, double and triple checking that the underwire isn’t some fancy hidden weapon and sending my carry-on bag through the X-ray machine multiple times just because the cord on my hair straightener is borderline suspicious.
I get it. The TSA is too busy protecting the masses from sketchy hair gel and emery boards to see if every single person shuffling through the security line is in fact secure.
Frankly, I am jealous of this woman. Sure, I’ll take the free ride but the real source of envy is sidestepping the aviation equivalent of a slow-moving Russian breadline.
But put all that aside. This crafty would-be passenger isn’t the first to get aboard a plane without the proper paperwork and she will undoubtedly not be the last to simply wing it.
The real head scratcher in this case is how authorities let her go not once but twice. The district attorney said the woman told them she has ovarian cancer and was just trying to get some place warm to die.
Ah, yes. The old cancer excuse. Works every time. I don’t purport to know if the woman really is ill but if so I do empathize the desire to spend one’s final days basking in tropical sunshine rather than bundling up in the blustery Bay (although to be fair there’s been little blustery about this winter). I also don’t know if the woman really couldn’t afford a flight or if she was merely seeing what she could get away with and figured even an economy seat without leg room beat out hiding in the wheel well.
In fact, I don’t need to know any of that to know this: cancer isn’t a valid excuse. The sympathy points might work for her but it certainly shouldn’t for those airport authorities who showed her the door. Once, maybe, although that first try was allegedly the one where she made the most headway toward the goal. But what happened when she came back the second time? And the use of somebody else’s boarding pass — this lady had a plan and people with plans are usually not the ones the TSA and police want queuing up for vacation. They want people who will blindly follow orders to take off one’s shoes, power down the laptop during takeoff and refrain from difficult questions like “Can I at least get a pillow for free?”
I bet if this woman was younger, male or swarthier there was no way she would get a slap on the wrist no matter how much cancer she claimed. Or, maybe this catch-and-release happens more than the average person realizes. That idea doesn’t do much to instill a sense of security, either.
The last thing airport security needs is more Big Brother tactics and cranky attitudes. But the appearance of bending too far in the opposite direction is problematic, too.
For her sake, I hope this woman does not have cancer. For the authorities, I hope there were more legitimate circumstances at play to which we are not privy because being ill doesn’t give one a pass, boarding or otherwise.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs twice a week. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.