BOSTON — An attack on a flight attendant last week — the latest in a long list of unruly passenger incidents — shows the continued need for a secondary cockpit barrier on all commercial aircraft, according to a former federal special agent.
The chaotic incident on the United flight from Los Angeles to Boston Logan International Airport also sent terrorists a clear message that “Americans are not going to lie down and take it,” said retired Federal Aviation Administration special agent Brian Sullivan.
The 77-year-old Massachusetts man spoke to the Boston Herald in the wake of the incident. Leominster man Francisco Torres, 33, was arrested after allegedly trying to open an emergency exit door and then trying to stab a flight attendant in the neck. Passengers, including a former Boston bouncer, ended up tackling Torres and restraining him.
During the incident, Torres in a video was seen moving toward the cockpit as he allegedly attacked the flight attendant.
“It emphasizes the need to have that extra barrier for the cockpit on every commercial aircraft,” Sullivan said. “They’ve hardened the cockpit door, which is great, but more needs to be done.”
When a pilot has to exit the cockpit to use the bathroom, the “secondary barrier” becomes flight attendants standing in front of the cockpit entrance — usually with their push cart.
“It puts flight attendants at risk, and puts an extra burden on them to protect the cockpit,” Sullivan said. “Because secondary barriers with a screen haven’t been installed on existing aircraft, it means that a flight attendant and a pushcart are the protection against a terrorist from storming the cockpit.”
Last month, members of Congress proposed the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act, which would require airlines to install secondary cockpit barriers in commercial passenger aircrafts. These wire-mesh gates would be located between the passenger cabin and cockpit door, blocking access to the flight deck while in the air.
“I am proud to co-lead the bipartisan Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act in an effort to make our nation’s skies safer and ensure our 9/11 heroes, like Capt. Victor J. Saracini, are never forgotten,” said Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch.
“These barriers to the flight deck provide an extra safety precaution that could prevent a terrorist attack or any other potentially devastating breach while in air,” Lynch added. “We must be proactive to keep our aircraft secure and this bill will help ensure tragedies like 9/11 never happen again and give passengers, pilots and flight crews additional protection and assurance for a safe flight.”
On a positive note, with regard to the recent incident on the flight to Logan, the passengers and flight attendants taking down the man and restraining him sends terrorists a message that travelers here will not sit idly by and fail to take action, Sullivan said.
“It shows them that the public is not going to take it anymore,” he added. “Americans are not going to lie down and take it.”
According to the federal criminal complaint, Torres admitted to investigators that he went into the bathroom on the plane and broke a spoon in half to make a weapon. There are plenty of things on an aircraft that can be turned into a weapon, Sullivan said — so despite TSA screening for weapons and banned items, passengers and crew need to “stay on our toes.”
He added, “Passengers and crew remain our best and last line of defense.”