US Customs holds AMS-SEA pax hostage for HOURS

Old Dec 29, 04, 9:10 pm
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US Customs holds AMS-SEA pax hostage for HOURS

I dare a government apologist to try and defend the actions of US Customs in this situation.

http://www.startribune.com/stories/484/5160444.html

In an ordeal that made some passengers feel like hostages, about 300 people aboard an Amsterdam-to-Seattle flight were delayed for 18 hours on the ground, unable to leave the plane for much of that time, as food and water ran out and the toilets stopped working.
...
Northwest Airlines Flight 33 finally arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Wednesday morning, 28 hours after takeoff, after being held up by a nightmarish combination of fog, work regulations and mechanical trouble.
...
Heavy fog had prevented the flight from landing in Seattle as scheduled Tuesday afternoon, forcing the pilot to circle the airport until fuel ran low. The plane then was diverted to an airport in Moses Lake, Wash., where it sat on the runway for hours as another crew was sent from Minnesota. The airline has regulations on how many consecutive hours crew members are permitted to work.
...
Passengers initially were not allowed to get off the plane because the Grant County International Airport is not equipped to screen international travelers. The passengers finally were allowed off Tuesday after officials temporarily cleared a terminal and posted sheriff's deputies at the entrances....
As for preventing the passengers from getting off the plane, U.S. Customs spokesman Mike Milne said: "We're not doing it to be mean. We're doing it to preserve the security requirements. We're required by law to screen these people when they come to the United States."

Last edited by AArlington; Dec 29, 04 at 9:16 pm Reason: changing 'sympathizer' to 'apologist'
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Old Dec 29, 04, 9:34 pm
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Originally Posted by AArlington
I dare a government apologist to try and defend the actions of US Customs in this situation.

http://www.startribune.com/stories/484/5160444.html
Seems perfectly logical to me, every country in the world will protect it's borders. What should they have done, just let everyone in with the risk of passengers leaving the airport?

If anyone is to blame then it's the airline for not being able to get a crew there quicker.
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Old Dec 29, 04, 10:07 pm
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Originally Posted by ScottC
Seems perfectly logical to me, every country in the world will protect it's borders. What should they have done, just let everyone in with the risk of passengers leaving the airport?

If anyone is to blame then it's the airline for not being able to get a crew there quicker.
Without a doubt, Northwest dropped the ball here. Why the pilot didn't divert to Portland... who knows.

But it was US Customs that kept the passengers onboard the plane/under armed guard for 18 hours after the 10 hour flight.

Would you sit patiently for 18 hours as Customs "protected the borders?" With the Canadian/US border as large and unsecure as it is, I think the risk of treating passengers a bit more civily (fromj a flight from AMS, of which Customs had a passenger manifest) is pretty low.
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Old Dec 29, 04, 10:31 pm
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...the Grant County International Airport is not equipped to screen international travelers...
Something's wrong here...
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Old Dec 29, 04, 11:55 pm
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Originally Posted by ScottC
What should they have done, just let everyone in with the risk of passengers leaving the airport?

If anyone is to blame then it's the airline for not being able to get a crew there quicker.
1) NW should have diverted to an airport with screening facilities or immediately delivered a fuel and/or a new crew and taken the flight (with less than 2 hours on the ground) to an airport with such facilities.

2a) If that were not possible, BICE could have let the pax of the plane earlier. No excuse for not pulling up a stair and putting them in a room with access to food, water, restrooms, cots/chairs, phones. I'm 100% sure the local Red Cross or a Church group would have helped.

BICE should also have some sort of rapid-response force that could be delivered to any airport anywhere to do the necessary screenings. One or two computers for whatever watchlists they check and 2-4 agents would have been adequate. Slow, but better than being held hostage for that long. And they could use some common sense and decide to dispense with any suspicionless secondary checks. I'm not sure why they couldn't temporarily deputize local LEOs to do the job in an emergency.

This, as with most such airline hostage situations, is a classic example of the people in charge not thinking a little out of the box to help some distressed people. The decision-makers at NW and BICE responsible for this incident should all be fired, lose their pensions, and be forced to apologize personally to all of the pax.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 12:14 am
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Originally Posted by studentff
This, as with most such airline hostage situations, is a classic example of the people in charge not thinking a little out of the box to help some distressed people.
That's pretty much the way I read it too. It seems we were more concerned with "following regulations" than using common sense. The plane was diverted due to bad weather (fog). It's not like the terrorists are going to come up with a plot to fly AMS-SEA, create fog in SEA, get re-directed to Moses Lake and then be able to bypass customs. It's just not logical. (If it were some type of mechanical thing or something like that, a stretched imagination may be able to skew it as some type of devious plot - but not weather).

Unless this plane was under scrutiny for some other reason (and everything in the Star Trib is simply a national security cover story), there is no reason to make people sit there for 18 hours. If you don't have reason to believe that someone is going to make a run for it with a bomb, you can let them into the airport terminal and have them hang out. What are they going to do? Have their buddies at Moses Lake run by and pick them up?
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Old Dec 30, 04, 8:43 am
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This sound terrible. My parents were flying on DL from abroad into ATL one time (in the evening about 5 yrs ago, so pre 9/11), which was closed due to weather. The plane diverted to SAV, where they sat for a couple of hours until a makeshift immigration & customs checkpoint was set up and some agents were scrambled together. Then people were "escorted off" row by row to be checked, and after that everybody pretty much slept in the airport. DL provided pizza and water... They finally made it to ATL the next morning (having paid for & lost the first night's hotel). All in all not so bad I suppose, and certainly better than what NW did above.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 9:08 am
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Yeah, I think the fault here lies with Northwest, not the Feds.

Since the diversionwas for weather, the pilots would have had adequate time to devise a plan to divert to an airport with screening facilities, and, as has been noted, there are several close by. The only thing might be that all such airports were also fogged-in. Can anyone confirm that? If that was the case, than I would say Northwest is off the hook and, as bad as it must have been, it was just one of those things.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 6:23 pm
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Originally Posted by PresRDC
If that was the case, than I would say Northwest is off the hook and, as bad as it must have been, it was just one of those things.
Keeping people locked on a plane for 18 hours after a 10 hour flight can't be chalked up to "just one of those things." It is ludicrious. I understand strict border protection/customs enforcement under general circumstances. But c'mon guys; lighten up and let these folks off the plane. With the border as porous as it is, a plane from AMS to SEA isn't going to be the end of the world.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 6:47 pm
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Originally Posted by AArlington
Passengers initially were not allowed to get off the plane because the Grant County International Airport is not equipped to screen international travelers.
How can an airport be labeled "International" and not have any Immigration & Customs screening. I understand that this took place some time in the middle of the night, but c'mon this is ridiculous.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 7:10 pm
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According to A-Z World Airports Guide, Grant County International Airport (MWH/KMWH) has a Free Port/Foreign Trade Zone, Animal Quarantine, Heavy jet testing/training, 400,000 square feet of hangar, and Customs facilities. It even lists the name and phone number of the inspector.
Customs Tel: +1 (1)509 762-2667Fax: +1 (1)509 762-2668
US Customs Inspector: Ron Gardner
http://www.azworldairports.com/cfm/f...s/p2740mwh.htm

The Grand County Economic Development Council is also very proud that "Grant County International Airport, just north of Moses Lake, has a Foreign Trade Zone with a full time customs agent."
http://www.grantedc.com/resources/quickfacts.html

Additionally, one of the airports cargo handling agents, says "We can expedite all your ground handling, build-up, break-down, and cargo shipping requirements here at CPA. CPA can also custom broker your inbound or outbound cargo needs at the Grant County International Airport. We can assist with your international freight issues as well with the on site U.S. Customs agents. GCIA is also a designated free trade zone. Economical on or off airport warehouse space is always available for your short or long term needs."
http://www.columbiapacificaviation.com/pages/933039/
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Old Dec 30, 04, 8:06 pm
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Originally Posted by LGA_UAL
The Grand County Economic Development Council is also very proud that "Grant County International Airport, just north of Moses Lake, has a Foreign Trade Zone with a full time customs agent."
Maybe he was on his lunch break? Oh yeah... The plane was there for 18 hours.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 10:21 pm
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I'm not sure if we can blame NW fully. From what I've read, this airport has misrepresented its facilities. The pilot may have thought that there was customs there....
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Old Dec 30, 04, 11:07 pm
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Originally Posted by LGA_UAL
The Grand County Economic Development Council is also very proud that "Grant County International Airport, just north of Moses Lake, has a Foreign Trade Zone with a full time customs agent."


Maybe someone with more knowledge can chime in, but does having customs facilities automatically mean they can handle immigration duties as well?
Perhaps they were only equipped to handle cargo, not people. Just a guess.

Regardless, this was an inexcusable screw-up by both NW and DHS.
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Old Dec 30, 04, 11:10 pm
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Originally Posted by LGA_UAL
Additionally, one of the airports cargo handling agents, says "We can expedite all your ground handling, build-up, break-down, and cargo shipping requirements here at CPA. CPA can also custom broker your inbound or outbound cargo needs at the Grant County International Airport. We can assist with your international freight issues as well with the on site U.S. Customs agents. GCIA is also a designated free trade zone. Economical on or off airport warehouse space is always available for your short or long term needs."
http://www.columbiapacificaviation.com/pages/933039/
Call the pax "cargo" and 'expedite' 'em off the plane then!!!
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