Over the weekend, an unknown Twitter user made bomb threats against two commercial airliners. Authorities deemed them credible enough to scramble two military jets to escort the flights to Atlanta's airport. It's unclear to me what good a fighter-jet escort would've done had an explosive device been aboard, but let that pass. What I really don't understand is what happened when the planes landed.
What I'd have guessed, prior to this incident, is that the planes would've been isolated on the most remote possible part of the runway, the passengers would've deplaned as quickly as possible, and then the airliners would've been searched by robots or an explosives team with dogs while the passengers were far away.
But that isn't what happened.
Instead, the planes were isolated... and the passengers were kept aboard. The press accounts don't make much of that detail, but it's there. For example, the Atlanta Journal Constitution story relates that the threat against the Southwest flight stated, "A bomb was placed on SWA2492. It will be detonated at a random time of my choosing.” A bit later, the same article included information from Toni Ellegen, a passenger aboard the Southwest flight: "To keep passengers happy during the two-hour wait on the tarmac, Ellingen said their pilot gave updates every 10 minutes, sent the beverage cart through again and allowed bathroom breaks."
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel includes a contemporaneous statement from Southwest: "Due to a security situation, upon safely landing as scheduled in Atlanta, the aircraft operating Flight 2492 from Milwaukee taxied under its own power to a remote area of the airport where 86 customers and the aircraft are being re-screened," the airline stated. "Our top priority is the safety of our customers and employees. We cannot comment on the nature of the security situation."
I'm not sure it ever makes sense to take an anonymous threat on Twitter seriously, given that people who actually plot to blow up airliners don't typically give advance warning. But it seems especially strange to treat a bomb threat as credible enough to justify scrambling fighter jets, grounding a flight, and closing down a runway to isolate a plane... and keeping dozens aboard as things play out. In such circumstances, being "allowed bathroom breaks" would not suffice to make me happy.
As a non-expert frequent flier, am I missing something? After a bit of reaching out to folks with more expertise, I've yet to hear an explanation for this protocol that makes sense, but I encourage email from anyone who can make the case for it.