United Airlines Flight 663

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United Airlines Flight 663
A United Airlines Boeing 757, similar to the occurrence aircraft.
Occurrence summary
Date 7 April 2010
Summary Suspect terrorist attack
Site en route Washington D.C. to Denver
Passengers 157
Crew 6
Injuries (non-fatal) 0
Fatalities 0
Survivors 163 (all)
Aircraft type Boeing 757-222
Operator United Airlines
Flight origin Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Washington, DC)
Stopover Denver International Airport
Destination Las Vegas International Airport

The United Airlines Flight 663 incident was a "minor international incident" in 2010 involving a Qatari diplomat on the leg of a United Airlines flight from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Washington, DC) to Denver International Airport (Denver, Colorado).[1] The diplomat prompted a mid-air terrorism alert after smoking in the aircraft lavatory, which led the Qatari government to recall him two days later. United no longer uses Flight 663 as a DCA-DEN-LAS route. UA663 is now used on the SFO-HNL route, flown by a Boeing 777.[2]

2010 incident[edit]

Flight 663 was a flight between Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC and Denver International Airport, continuing on to Las Vegas International Airport using a different aircraft than the one that operated the Washington–Denver sector.[3] On 7 April 2010, a disturbance involving a passenger happened en route from Washington, DC to Denver.[3][4] Officials identified the passenger as Mohammed al-Madadi, a diplomat from the Embassy of Qatar in Washington, D.C.[5][6] Officials took al-Madadi into custody, and the plane landed safely in Denver.[7] The North American Aerospace Defense Command scrambled two F-16 fighters to intercept and escort the aircraft into Denver.[8] Officials said the incident was a misunderstanding after al-Madadi attempted to smoke a pipe in the lavatory, then made "an unfortunate remark" after being confronted by two members of the Federal Air Marshal Service.[9][10] Law enforcement officials said al-Madadi mentioned "lighting his shoes", taken as a reference to shoe bomber Richard Reid.[11]

Qatari Ambassador to the United States Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri issued a statement on the Embassy website:

Press reports today regarding an incident aboard a commercial flight from Washington, DC to Denver, CO indicate that a Qatari diplomat was detained for suspicious behavior. We respect the necessity of special security precautions involving air travel, but this diplomat was traveling to Denver on official Embassy business on my instructions, and he was certainly not engaged in any threatening activity. The facts will reveal that this was a mistake, and we urge all concerned parties to avoid reckless judgments or speculation.[12][13]

The Associated Press reported that al-Madadi was traveling on official Embassy business to visit Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a jailed al-Qaeda conspirator held at United States Penitentiary, Florence.[14][15] Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano praised the air marshals, who had been deployed in greater numbers following the attempted in-air bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on December 25, 2009.[16]

Felony charges would be applicable for non-diplomats.[17] U.S. officials said al-Madadi would not face criminal charges because of diplomatic immunity.[18] The suspect was released following interviews with law enforcement officials.[14] United States Department of State officials said al-Madadi was removed from the country by Qatar, rather than being declared persona non grata by the U.S. government and expelled from the United States.[19][20][21] Al-Madadi left the United States on April 9, 2010.[22] Qatar's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Mahmood said that al-Madadi would be disciplined.[23][24]

Analysis and debate[edit]

The incident sparked international debate about how a matter of this nature should be handled.[25][26][27][28] In the United States, some analysts objected that Qatar would not be asked to reimburse taxpayers, inconvenienced passengers, and the airline for costs of the incident.[29] Though smoking was banned aboard U.S. commercial airliners in 1990, the cases brought by the Federal Aviation Administration rarely lead to more than a fine.[30] Because of this, the Washington Post reported that some diplomats felt that the incident was a case of racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims.[1] A Wall Street Journal editorial asserted that new profiling techniques based on behavior enjoy "widespread public support."[31] A Scripps News editorial agreed, stating "the success so far of preventing a reprise of 9/11 may just depend on the highest-level reaction and then sorting it all out later."[32] One passenger, author Michael Lind, argued in the Financial Times that "there should have been a debate about overreaction to false alarms. I am as angry as anyone at the Qatari diplomat who escaped prosecution thanks to diplomatic immunity. But the incident was the result of the toxic interaction between his arrogance and foolishness and an airline security system that is irrational as a whole."[33]

In Qatar, the incident provoked criticism of the foreign ministry. An editorial by Ahmad Al Sulaiti in the daily Al-Watan called the event "embarrassing," adding, "While I do not intend to give lessons to the foreign ministry, I wish [Minister] Al Mahmood would tell me if our diplomats are properly groomed before they are sent to our embassies abroad and whether they acquire skills from our veteran ambassadors."[34] Al Mahmood replied that the incident was "an individual misjudgment that should not be over-generalised."[34]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b DeYoung, Karen and Spencer S. Hsu (April 9, 2010). Diplomat on Denver flight to be sent back to Qatar, U.S. says. Washington Post
  2. ^ http://flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL633
  3. ^ a b Cardon, Felisa and Jeffrey Leib (April 7, 2010). Possible shoe bomb incident on Denver-bound flight. Denver Post
  4. ^ Staff report (April 8, 2010). 'Cigarette' behind US plane alert. Aljazeera
  5. ^ Hsu, Spencer S. and Clarence Williams (April 8, 2010). Qatari diplomat, apparently smoking in onboard bathroom, causes security scare on D.C. flight. Washington Post
  6. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (April 7, 2010). Air Marshals Intervene in Incident on Plane. New York Times
  7. ^ Spillius, Alex (April 8, 2010). Qatari diplomat questioned after incident on US flight. The Telegraph
  8. ^ Wald, Matthew L. and Charlie Savage (April 8, 2010). Plane Passenger Is Held Following a Confrontation. New York Times
  9. ^ Pelofsky, Jeremy (April 8, 2010). Man in custody after disturbance on U.S. flight. Reuters
  10. ^ Associated Press (April 7, 2010). Official: Incident a misunderstanding. Washington Post
  11. ^ Moreno, Ivan and Devlin Barrett (April 8, 2010). AP source: Man on flight trying to sneak smoke. Associated Press
  12. ^ Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri (April 7, 2010). Statement by Qatari Ambassador. via qatarembassy.net
  13. ^ Hampton, Olivia (April 8, 2010). Qatari diplomat held in US flight bomb scare; officials. Sydney Morning Herald
  14. ^ a b Shane, Scott (April 8, 2010). Qatari Envoy Was to Meet Al Qaeda Figure in Jail. New York Times
  15. ^ Winter, Michael (April 8, 2010). AP: Qatari envoy in plane scare was going to visit jailed al-Qaeda agent. USA Today
  16. ^ Crabtree, Susan (April 8, 2010). Napolitano thanks air marshals for taking action on flight disrupted by diplomat. The Hill
  17. ^ Serrano, Richard, and Nicholas Riccardi (April 8, 2010). Qatari envoy subdued after smoke is detected on jetliner. Los Angeles Times
  18. ^ Moreno, Ivan, and Devlin Barrett (April 8, 2010). AP source: Man on flight will not be charged. Associated Press
  19. ^ Salinger, Rick (April 8, 2010). Diplomat Traveled To See Imprisoned Al-Qaida Agent. KCNC-TV
  20. ^ Meikle, James (April 8, 2010). Qatari diplomat 'smoking' causes US plane scare. The Guardian
  21. ^ Lee, Matthew (April 8, 2010). Officials: Plane scare diplomat likely sent home. Associated Press
  22. ^ Associated Press (April 10, 2010). Diplomat from Qatar leaves US.
  23. ^ White, Andrew (April 15, 2010). 'Shoe bomb' diplomat will be punished - minister. Arabian Business
  24. ^ AFP (April 14, 2010). Qatar to discipline US flight passenger. Sydney Morning Herald
  25. ^ Staff report (April 8, 2010). Qatari Diplomat Who Caused Security Scare Should Be Expelled, Critics Say. Fox News
  26. ^ Wachter, Paul (April 8, 2010). What Does It Take to Lose Diplomatic Immunity? AOL News
  27. ^ Mayerowitz, Scott (April 8, 2010). The Idiots Who Cause Your Flight to Be Late. ABC News
  28. ^ Williams, Mary Elizabeth (April 10, 2010). This week in crazy: The smoking diplomat. Salon.com
  29. ^ Editorial staff (April 12, 2010). Flying idiot from Qatar. New York Post
  30. ^ Hughes, John and Jeff Green (April 9, 2010). In-Flight Smokes Entice Hundreds 20 Years Following U.S. Ban. Bloomberg.com
  31. ^ Crovitz, L. Gordon (April 12, 2010). The Lesson of the Joking 'Shoe-Bomber.' Wall Street Journal
  32. ^ Thomasson, Dan K. (April 12, 2010). Thomasson: Cost of overreaction is worth it. ScrippsNews
  33. ^ Lind, Michael (April 19, 2010). Hysteria that plays into the hands of bin Laden. Financial Times
  34. ^ a b Toumi, Habib (April 14, 2010). Qatar to take disciplinary action against 'erring' diplomat. Gulf News

External links[edit]