On Friday a Turkish man who had had an interaction with LAX Police a few hours prior to departure caused a disturbance on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu – such a disturbance that F-22’s were scrambled to escort the plane to Honolulu, and scores of law enforcement officers greeted the plane and took the man into custody.
If you think that summary leaves a few things out, you’re correct. But, as the story developed over the weekend and into Monday, those are about the only facts that didn’t change.
The initial report said Anil Uskanli, 25, attempted to gain entry to the cockpit and was subdued. A report from a “government official” soon after that said he was loitering near the restroom at the front of the plane, next to the cockpit, and refused to take his seat when asked multiple times.
Within hours, though (if that), local Hawaii news was reporting a different story. Passengers reported that the man came up the aisle with a towel or a blanket over his head and tried to push his way through to First Class, but flight attendant blocked him with a beverage cart, and an off-duty LAPD officer and other passengers stopped him and tied him to a chair with duct tape until landing.
Around the same time, the AP reported:
Among the first to board were first class passengers Mark and Donna Basden, who found a laptop computer in a seat pocket in front of them.
The couple, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, assumed someone on a previous flight left it there but a flight attendant said it probably belonged to a man who was in the bathroom.
A man Donna Basden described as a “disheveled looking fellow” emerged and Mark Basden gave him the laptop. The man scowled, took the laptop and opened it and closed it and then tried to sit in another first class seat, Mark Basden said.
The man “clearly looked out of place” and was sent to the economy section of the plane after a flight attendant asked to see his boarding pass and told him he would have to go to row 35 at the back of the plane, Donna Basden said.
Then we find out that his interaction with LAX police was of a pretty serious nature.
Los Angeles International Airport Police Division responded to a radio call of a passenger going through a door from the Terminal 5 concourse that led out onto the airfield ramp, according to a statement from LAX.
Uskanli, who was a ticketed passenger on an American Airlines flight, had gone through TSA screening and was immediately spotted by a contractor and detained, LAX Public Information Officer Frederick Badlissi said.
They said he was “just looking for food,” cited for misdemeanor trespassing, and released.
On Monday, court documents were released that shed more light on an already extremely disturbing set of facts.
A man who caused a disturbance on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu had no luggage other than a laptop and needed a wheelchair to board the plane because he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, according to court documents released Monday.
Oh, but wait. On Friday:
Airport police investigated and determined Uskanli had been drinking but did not meet the criteria for public intoxication. He was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing, cited, given a pending court date and released to board his flight to Honolulu.
Just like in a cheesy infomercial – but wait, there’s more!
Uskanli bought his ticket around midnight and was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after opening a door that led to an airfield ramp at about 2:45 a.m., airport police said.
His boarding pass was confiscated and he was walked out to a public area of the airport, police said. He went back, got another boarding pass for the flight and went through security screening again.
The LAX representative said they don’t generally contact the airlines when an incident like that happens, saying ,”If we thought he was a danger, we wouldn’t have let him go.” Doesn’t confiscating his boarding pass and kicking him out of the airport mean you believe he shouldn’t be aboard the flight?
And what, exactly, did airport police think they were accomplishing by simply confiscating his boarding pass and not alerting the airline OR TSA? Uskanli had the presence of mind to just go print another boarding pass and go through security again, probably laughing at the dumba$$ Keystone Cops who’d kicked him out the whole time.
If his behavior was alarming enough to kick him out of the airport and take his boarding pass, the airline should know so they can cancel his ticket, and TSA should know in case he tries to get through security again. Airport police wouldn’t necessarily know that he was traveling on a visa, but TSA would – and his “file” should have been noted with the information and possibly put on a no-fly list.
The incompetence of the airport police is just stunning.
Let’s look at the number of red flags here, though, that were missed by the various players.
- Bought the ticket on the day of departure
- No checked luggage
- No carry-on luggage
- Caught trespassing onto tarmac
- Had to be WHEELED onto flight due to intoxication
That the only property he brought aboard with him was a laptop – especially after everything in the news last week about laptops on airplanes – should have been taken into consideration, too.
We don’t know if he bought a one-way ticket or if he had overstayed his visa, which would just add more red flags to his profile.
Though his ticket was in coach, he was the very first person to board the flight, possibly because he was in a wheelchair. (There are conflicting reports about whether he requested the wheelchair or airline employees felt he had to use it.) Once aboard the flight and before departure, Uskanli showed more red flags.
- Attempting to sit close to the cockpit
- Aggressive attitude when asked to return to his own seat
People have been thrown off of flights for FAR less. How was he not DRAGGED off of that flight?
Oh, but, come on, he just really really needed to get to Hawaii quickly and is afraid to fly, so he had a few drinks. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Not quite. He was quite forthcoming about his mindset in his interview with the FBI.
“When I asked him if he ever had terroristic thoughts, he responded, ‘We all have those ideas,’” an agent wrote in an affidavit.
The agent asked again later about terroristic thoughts. In response, Uskanli made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot her, she wrote.
“He then did a gesture simulating a chopping motion toward my neck,” the agent wrote.
He then told another agent, “I’ll kill her, get out the following day and shoot myself,” according to the court documents.
That this man was allowed to board the airplane is a disgrace. Hundreds of lives were put at risk because the various entities didn’t communicate or take definitive action to make sure this man wasn’t allowed back in the airport after he was kicked out. Even absent the information from the airport police, though, American Airlines would have been justified in kicking him off the plane before departure.
This incident has shown the entire world – especially those who would do us harm – what a soft target LAX is. Everyone traveling through there this summer better hope something changes, and fast.