Cabin crew can often seem to have the role of simply serving food and drinks and giving the safety demonstration at the start of flights. However, the job of a flight attendant goes far beyond this and they have rigorous training when it comes to security. The shocking 9/11 terror attack in the USA shook the world and altered the landscape of air travel. A former cabin crew member for Virgin Atlantic has revealed what it was like following the epic tragedy.
“Air travel changed dramatically following 9/11 and our cabin crew training manual was practically rewritten,” wrote Mandy Smith in her book Cabin Fever.
“We had to undergo an updated rigorous course of SAS-style security training and Virgin’s entire fleet was modified in line with heightened security rules.
“The flight decks were fitted with bulletproof doors, walls, and security cameras.
“Security keypads were also added to the flight deck, the rotating entry code being revealed only to a select few staff per flight.
“There were armed marshals on board and the days of kids being able to visit the flight deck were well and truly over.
“We were taught code words and phrases that would be used in cases of emergency – secret messages that could be relayed to crew via the PA system if, for example, there was a terrorist on board.”
Mandy explained that this training came in highly useful when she was faced with a terrifying incident at Heathrow on a flight to San Francisco in 2002.
“We were preparing for take-off. The cabin doors were closed and the safety demo was about to begin,” she said.
“But something was unnerving us. Two crew members and I had been watching two guys towards the rear of the cabin.
“One was sitting in the middle row of seats, the other in a window seat a few rows behind. A few things had triggered our curiosity, they looked rather shifty, very conspicuous – all jumpy and irritable and staring at other passengers.
“I alerted my flight service manager and checks were swiftly made with the ground staff.
“Alarm bells started ringing when we discovered they’d booked their tickets on the same credit card but had chosen to sit separately.
“The jetway was reattached, police stormed the cabin and the two men were handcuffed and escorted off the plane.
“When we informed the passengers that they too would have to leave the aircraft, some of them went berserk, demanding compensation and threatening to complain to Richard Branson.
“The sniffer dogs entered the cabin and headed directly to the suspects’ seats.
“It later transpired the two men in question were on the FBI’s most-wanted list and were suspected sleeper terrorists, who apparently travelled on every airline, to suss out airline security measures. The plane was grounded. No compensation was paid.”
A thwarted terror attack is also the reason passengers are now only allowed 100ml of liquid on hand luggage.
The incident was the largest terror plot ever discovered in Britain. The terrorists had improvised explosive devices which they had disguised in soft drink bottles.
The bottles were in their hand luggage along with a large number of batteries – which raised the alarm.
The terrorists were intending to assemble the bombs on board planes and detonate them.