- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Federal officials have pinpointed an airline flight from Los Angeles to Washington as a potential terrorist target in the past two weeks and have begun scrutinizing the flight crew’s luggage and using security agents to follow pilots preparing for the flight.

Bomb-sniffing dogs are also being stationed in the gate area as passengers of United Airlines Flight 200 from Los Angeles International Airport to Dulles International Airport undergo more intense security checks.

The flight, which departs Los Angeles at 6:55 p.m. Eastern (3:55 local time) and arrives in Dulles at 11:46 p.m. Eastern, has been “sanitized” before takeoff, said one flight crew member who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“They absolutely tear everything apart inside the flight bag, every piece of professional literature, flight manuals, head sets, they empty the overnight bag. It’s being scrutinized at a level I have never seen in over 25 years of flying,” the crew member said.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has designated it as a “flight of interest,” according to a memo from the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) obtained by The Washington Times.

Pilots and flight attendants “are receiving a thorough second security screening by the TSA, which includes flight bags and all personal belongings. In addition, the pilot conducting the preflight is being shadowed,” the memo said.

“Shadowed,” refers to a policy of preventing pilots from entering the aircraft for preflight inspections until a security escort arrives to follow their movements, said the crew member. A TSA official then observes the pilots from the terminal window.

Neither pilots nor air marshals are receiving an explanation for the intense searches, and neither is the airline nor the pilot unions, according to the memo and the crew member.

The TSA and United Airlines did not return calls seeking comment.

Capt. David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, said the TSA is wasting valuable resources by searching flight attendants and pilots.

“Every single crew member assigned to a flight has their identification verified before boarding,” Mr. Mackett said. “It should also be obvious a weapon is superfluous to a pilot getting control of an airplane, since he is given control as his primary job.”

“What is especially disconcerting is that the TSA refuses to even tell the captain of the flight what the threat is, and the captain is charged by law with ensuring the flight’s safety,” Mr. Mackett said.

International flight crews underwent similar security measures during the Christmas and New Year holidays and again in February, as TSA worked to prevent a repeat of the September 11 attacks, in which terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

This is the first time that such security measures, including having pilots empty their pockets and scanning them with hand-held metal detectors, have been employed on domestic flights in the United States.

All four of the planes hijacked on September 11 were cross-country domestic flights, three of which were headed for Los Angeles International Airport, including American Airlines Flight 77 which originated at Dulles and was used to attack the Pentagon.

“The worst part about it is we are not being given information, and we can’t make decisions to protect the aircraft,” said the flight crew member.

The ALPA memo urged pilots, who also have been asked by federal officials to file reports with the union on screening methods and “unusual events during the flight,” to maintain a professional demeanor and comply with all reasonable requests.

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