Former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has ten good questions about the security procedures that allowed the would-be Northwest 253 bomber to fly from Amsterdam to Detroit and, nearly, set off a bomb that would have destroyed the plane in the skies of southeast Michigan on Christmas Day. (I have a particular interest in that, having flown to Detroit on Christmas Eve.) Readers’ responses to Baker’s questions prompted him to ask an eleventh question: Did Northwest (or, rather, Delta, which has absorbed Northwest and is in the process of taking over its operations) comply with the AQQ program which requires that passport downloads collected by the airline be cleared with the Department of Homeland Security before the plane takes off and in time for the airline to remove suspect passengers from the plane?
DHS made the AQQ requirement final more than a year ago, after a long testing period. But a number of US carriers have been stiffing DHS, refusing to comply with the regulation because, they say, they can't afford to upgrade their computer systems. They say they're waiting to see what upgrades they'll have to make for the TSA Secure Flight program, but I find it astonishing that a private regulated industry would simply declare that it won't comply with US law.
I have reason to suspect that Delta/Northwest was not complying. Some time during the last year, I was flying out of Detroit to Washington on a ticket issued by Delta and, having missed a connection, sought to take the next Northwest flight. That proved difficult to process through the Delta/Northwest computer system because, Northwest personnel informed me, Delta has a more primitive computer system than Northwest’s but has insisted that the merged airline run its computer operations out of Delta’s HQ in Atlanta rather than Northwest’s in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Now maybe I was being misled by aggrieved Northwest personnel (the Northwest pilots who flew halfway across Wisconsin were apparently consulting their personal laptops on scheduling issues arising from the Northwest/Delta merger). Or maybe the computer system the Northwest folks in Detroit were complaining about had nothing to do with the computer issues Stewart Baker spotlights. But I’m suspicious that Delta may be one of the airlines not cooperating with the AQQ requirement. If so, they should get unshirted hell, as Baker suggests.