How to survive a plane hijacking

Lockdown number three seems to have brought out the survivalist in me. Not only have I been weirdly obsessed with reading crime thrillers (“Blood Orange” anyone?) but I seem to have developed a possibly unhealthy and morbid fascination with disaster films, particularly ones which involve planes being hijacked, strange viruses attacking humans or apocalyptic movies where giant comets crash into the Earth. In a strange way, I think it’s the anxious side of me asserting itself in the face of an unpredictable and ever changing situation (this current pandemic) and trying to control the uncontrollable. My logic is, it’s “exposure therapy”. If and when I’m ever on a plane again and it gets hijacked, well at least I’ll know what to do! Similarly, watching films like “Contagion” and “Outbreak” during the first lockdown last year as Covid ran rampant around the globe made me feel less anxious about it. While I noticed the uncanny parallels in “Contagion”, I sort of felt that I knew what to expect and it couldn’t ever be as bad as the film depicted. “Outbreak”was even more reassuring to watch as at least Covid didn’t turn your insides into a slithery mush and have you bleed from every orifice.

Anyway, my latest lockdown viewing was the film “7500”. A fairly low-budget film with a simple plot- a hijacking. What made it compelling viewing for me was it just seemed so believable and realistic. The interactions between the pilot and the First Officer (played by Joseph- Gordon Levitt who is brilliant in this!) and the pilots and the air stewardesses seemed really credible as did the speed at which everything took place. It’s unfortunately all too easy to imagine how this could happen and highlights the extreme vulnerability of passengers suspended several thousand kilometres above the earth in what is essentially a large tin bucket with wings. At least that’s what it feels like to me nowadays when I fly or at least it did when I could fly in Before Times. I used to like flying and loved the excitement of going somewhere new but as I’ve grown older, and have exposed myself to possibly too many plane jacking films, I’ve become the type of person you probably don’t want to sit next to on a plane. The one whose knuckles get increasingly whiter and whose palms get sweatier the moment the plane hits any kind of turbulence. The fear that I’m going to die in a crash becomes all consuming and though I regard myself as an atheist, I always pray on a plane! I become increasingly paranoid and sit rigidly in my seat, sick with anxiety and obsessed with watching the air stewards and stewardesses faces carefully, convinced that if something is wrong, I’ll know from their expressions. I’ll also closely watch the movements of any male passengers, particularly the ones who might look a little Middle-Eastern carefully as they could be potential terrorists. It’s totally xenophobic and irrational I know but that’s what anxiety is in a nutshell. It makes you hyper vigilant and yes, irrational at times and alert to any potential danger. Anyway, in my defence , I blame Hollywood as the Middle Eastern terrorist stereotype is what we’re constantly fed. 🙂

Anyway, all this has not been in vain as at least now I know what to do if I’m ever on a plane that gets hijacked. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Beware of any male passengers that look vaguely Middle Eastern. Be particularly suspicious if they sit towards the front of the plane (this is so that they can quickly take control of the aircraft).
  2. 7500 is the air traffic control code for a hijacking. Not that that would be much consolation if you were ever involved in a real hijack situation but at least you’d know what it meant if it came up in conversation !
  3. Most plane hijackings happen within the first 30 minutes of take-off, usually once the pilot has switched off the seatbelt sign and the cabin crew are about to commence drinks service. Be particularly alert at this time. If there were ever a time to mount a counter offensive, this would be it.
  4. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LET THE TERRORISTS GAIN ACCESS TO THE COCKPIT. If this happens, you’re fucked, pure and simple. If this means that the terrorists need to shoot a few hostages (as long as you’re not one of them), let this happen. This is no time to be a hero. DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT, LET THEM GET ACCESS TO THE COCKPIT.
  5. If the terrorists are standing at the front of the plane and have a hostage (usually a woman, often an air stewardess as they are unfortunately conveniently standing there), DO NOT make eye contact. Go to your happy place and close your eyes as you’re not going to want to see what they do to the air stewardess (sadly collateral damage).
  6. Depending on what weapons the terrorists have, your only hope of survival is a) avoiding eye contact and b) cooperating with the other passengers to mount a surprise attack. You will have to act quickly as obviously time is against you here and every second counts. Your best hope is perhaps to catch the terrorists unawares perhaps by tripping them as they walk down the alley way. Of course, this could backfire spectacularly and you could end up being shot but that’s a risk you might just have to take.
  7. The air force are absolutely useless. Aside from causing undue additional anxiety to terrorists, pilots and passengers by flying threateningly alongside your plane there’s not really a whole lot they can do in a hijacking situation
  8. Air traffic control will be similarly useless. Aside from issuing vague platitudes and irritatingly wanting updates at crucial moments of the hijacking , as your co-pilot lies bleeding to death from a terrorist induced stab wound, they’ll do damn all either.
  9. Your best hope of survival lies in remaining inconspicuous. Failing that, attempt to build a relationship with one of the terrorists, preferably the youngest member of the group, the one whose arm you suspect might be most easily twisted. Chances are he’s young and naive and just went along with all this because he was under the spell of the charismatic leader of the terrorist group. Really, he doesn’t want to die and he just wants his Mommy. Use that to your advantage and appeal to his better nature (that’s what Gordon Levitt did in the film anyway and he survived to tell the tale!). With a bit of luck, you might just persuade him that this was all a really bad idea and that life (even behind bars for the rest of his life) is worth living!
  10. Last but not least, in the unlikely event that the pilots are still in charge of the plane and the hijacking has not gone to plan, don’t expect to actually land at your original destination. YOU WILL be diverted to the nearest runway as planes always run dangerously low on fuel in the course of a hijacking.

Right, hope that’s been of help… I feel that’s my service to humanity done today. HAPPY FLYING Y’ALL!:-)

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