Northwest Flight 253 Security Incident

December 27, 2009 - On December 25, 2009, Northwest Flight 253, an A-330 from AMS to DTW, experienced an in-flight security incident approximately 30 miles from landing. According to news media reports, a Nigerian national smuggled some flammable and/or explosive materials on his person and attempted to ignite them while in his seat. This resulted in a fire, but no explosion. The perpetrator, who claimed to be an al Qaeda operative, suffered serious burns in the process and was taken into law enforcement custody upon landing at DTW.

During the past few days, the ALPA National Security Committee (NSC) and Engineering and Air Safety Department staff have worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Air Marshal Service about this event.

In response to the incident, the TSA issued a new security directive that will increase pat-down inspections of international passengers at gates, increase attention to items carried onboard, place some restrictions on passenger movement, and introduce other short-term measures. Crews should anticipate the need to submit to additional security procedures that the TSA may impose to address this particular threat. If you have any questions about the new security rules, please direct them to your MEC Security Chairman/Coordinator. The NSC will pass along more information as it becomes available.

The NSC urges all crews to maintain a high level of security awareness and be prepared to take appropriate action, as did the crew of Flight 253. The attack was not related to jumpseat access, however, the National Jumpseat Committee reminds all pilots to check pilot and medical certificates, and company identification when an offline pilot requests jumpseat access on the flight deck or in the cabin. Please report any suspicious behavior to the TSA or law enforcement personnel.

The DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano, issued the following statement:

“I am grateful to the passengers and crew aboard Northwest Flight 253 who reacted quickly and heroically to an incident that could have had tragic results. The Department of Homeland Security immediately put additional screening measures into place—for all domestic and international flights—to ensure the continued safety of the traveling public. We are also working closely with federal, state and local law enforcement on additional security measures, as well as our international partners on enhanced security at airports and on flights.

The American people should continue their planned holiday travel and, as always, be observant and aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious behavior or activity to law enforcement officials.

Passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place. These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same thing everywhere. Due to the busy holiday travel season, both domestic and international travelers should allot extra time for check-in.”