August 18, 2006, - 9:37 am

“Snakes on a Plane” Raises Persistent Cargo Security Questions

By Debbie Schlussel
My review of “Snakes on a Plane” will be posted shortly. If you’re planning on seeing the movie and don’t want to read even a tiny spoiler (very minor to the “plot”)–how they get the snakes onto the plane–stop here.
**** Tiny Spoiler Alert ****
Before I saw “Snakes on a Plane,” last night, I thought–based on the video for the movie’s theme song–that they got the snakes on the plane in carry-on baggage, including a guitar case and briefcase. I had a few posts about it, including one in which federal agents involved with airport security all said it could be done, and another with links to stories about passengers managing to get snakes on board aircrafts. But the video was a red herring.

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The way snakes got onto the plane in the movie highlights the heretofore and continuing lack of adequate cargo screening. In “Snakes on a Plane,” mobsters get snakes on the plane by packing them inside cargo boxes. There is a timer inside the boxes to explode the boxes open with enough force to free hundreds of poisonous and/or deadly snakes (including a giant boa constrictor) without harming them or causing any noticeable explosions on the plane. A corrupt baggage handler who works for the small Hawaiian airline puts the snake-filled boxes in the cargo hold. He also sprays the flower leis the airline gives everyone, with pheromones to make the snakes violent and aggressive.
The movie–a good, campy B-movie with a lot of funny lines–unwittingly raises the persistent cargo concerns that have yet to be addressed, almost 5 years after 9/11. As we know, very little of airplane cargo is checked. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal rerported that most cargo is unscreened, with best estimates of only 10-15% of cargo that flies actually inspected. “It’s one of the most disturbing issues out there,” Robert Francis, former Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board told the Journal.
Further, many cargo and baggage handlers remain unscreened in proper background checks. At Detroit Metro Airport, for example, sources say that some ex-cons without complete background checks, remain baggage handlers and cargo loaders for planes.
Most cargo and baggage handlers are innocent, law-abiding, low-paid workers who do hard work and a lot of back-breaking heavy lifting, loading and unloading bags and containers. But, it would be very easy for a mobster–or terrorist group–to pay one of them off to load boxes of snakes onto a plane. Especially when adequate background checks and screenings have not been performed on all of those working the job.
While it’s only a movie–and, again, a B-movie at that–the fact remains that cargo is very inadequately screened. Could someone get snakes onto a plane in the cargo hold? Very easily. And incendiary device? That, too.
And not just on the make-believe, silver screen.

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