Monday, June 15, 2009

"He was probably just a white collar criminal."

On our flight from DCA to Albany I totally sat next to a guy with a gun. And I didn't even know it until I was getting ready to get off the plane. FYI - if the flight's totally full and there are only 3 seats left on the plane and one of them is the back row window, you too could end up sitting next to a guy with a gun.

Here's how it happened:
We checked in online a little late in the evening for the flight and I ended up with the back row window. Whatever, this sucks, but at least there were no middle seats on the flight. As I'm getting on the plane (apparently called "enplaning"), I check out - not in a sexy way, but you know, size up - the guy I'm going to be sitting next to. He is generally unexciting, in fact he seems like maybe he's kind of a jerk: spiky gelled hair, jeans and a t-shirt, shades, listening to his ipod. Fine.

Slowly I discover he's probably on business travel and traveling with the guy across the aisle from him as they pass newspapers between each other. I read my book (which is entirely about sex and sometimes that feels a little awkward when you're sitting next to a stranger), have a snack, and fall asleep by the time the beverage cart has reached the back of the plane. Sadly, I wake up to my ears dying from the pressure, but we're about to land in my old hood* anyway, so I drink some water and try to cope. When the plane lands, these to work buddies are checking blackberries, talking about work emails, nothing out of the ordinary (and they got to sit together, so not fair because my travel partner, S, was sitting one row ahead of me but opposite window).

The man sitting next to me stands up and I shimmy my way into the aisle to talk to S and to stand up and essentially wiggle, because one hour of sitting still is too much for me. As I'm looking around I see that the guy in the window seat (behind S, next to my seatmate's work buddy) had his jacket halfway unzipped. Whatever.
BUT HE WAS CUFFED. Yeah. The guy behind S was in handcuffs! And then I realized that my seatmate and his buddy were ESCORTING him from DC to Albany.

As S and I got off the plane (deboarding) I started whispering to him, "The guy sitting behind you was in handcuffs." He didn't hear me. I whispered again. Still didn't hear. We stop to phone our ride and see the prisoner and his two escorts walking off the plane. "That guy, right there. And the guy sitting next to me was his escort. He totally had a gun!" We probably stared, whatever.
I determined that S had been in great danger, had the prisoner decided to get unruly and reach his hands over the seat to strangle him. This is probably untrue, as it appears prisoners need to have their wrists shackled to their waists, so he would have been pretty stuck.

I did some research, apparently "Less than one percent of all flights contain prisoners who are being extradited, deported or otherwise moved – and most of the time, we're talking white-collar suspects, not violent offenders." (

Well, I know it's probably slightly inappropriate to say this, but when a black prisoner is being transported from DC he's probably not a white collar criminal (Marion Barry not included).
Anyway, this was clearly the most dangerous part of my weekend, though sharing a twin bed does come close, and it made for excellent conversation with people I'd never met before:
"Well S was in the most dangerous seat on the plane and I was sitting next to a guy with a gun!"
(Incidentally, should anything else have happened on that plane, we would have been pretty safe.)

I did some research, below is some info on flying with prisoners:

Law Officer With Prisoner (s) AA policy:
  • All prisoners - minimum or maximum risk - must have an armed escort (guard or law enforcement officer).
  • Must be handcuffed at all times, even enplaning, deplaning, and anytime on board.
  • Handcuffs must be secured to the prisoner's belt or chain around the waist. The prisoner may also be shackled at the ankles.
  • The escort must be armed, a member of a law enforcement agency, and must have a letter with all required information.
  • Escorted prisoners and their armed guards must occupy the rear most available seats on the aircraft. This allows for coach travel only. Window exit seating is restricted as well.
*Yes, I lived in Albany for 3 years in the 80s when it was a not so nice city. I'm not sure it's improved that much since then.

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