From 1967 to 1973 there was never more than 6 weeks without a plane hijacking in the US. Back then not only could you smoke on a plane, you could board without ever going through a metal detector or even a screening. You didn’t need a ticket to be at the gate. Therefore it’s no surprise that anyone could bring a weapon/explosive (or the threat of one) onto a plane.
Not only did the airlines have no preventative measures against skyjackings, but they had handbooks of how to comply with hijackers. At the beginning there were a lot of defectors (angry at Vietnam) to Havana Cuba for amnesty (where they would only find the gulag & Castro holding the plays for ransom money), then others would see skyjacking as a way to travel one-way for cheap, and soon they started asking for money that the airlines would gladly deliver.
Despite the incredible “inconvenience” to law-abiding passengers and airline employees, the airlines were not only eager to pay out ransoms to these hijackers but spent even more in lobbying the government to avoid making any changes to their boarding processes - fearing that metal detectors and screenings would delay, frustrate, and drive away travelers. Rather than pay to implement any safety measures, their lobbying money successfully held off any changes to airports for years.
Brendan Koerner has written an awesome book titled The Skies Belong to Us about this hijacking era that I’ve thankfully not had to experience myself. He writes in an exciting style that puts you in the middle of these hijackings, as they would develop in an action thriller, at the same time he gives context to the political and emotional feelings surrounding this epidemic of plane hijackings (and the media coverage that perpetuated it).
Meanwhile Koerner gives center stage to a particularly compelling skjacking: when Roger Holder & Cathy Kerkow took over a flight with a briefcase bomb that would eventually take them around the world and the authorities that would pursue these global fugitives. He gives you their life stories that brought them together and onto the plane, as well as what happens after as a result.
It’s a testament to how well written and researched this book is that you HAVE to know what happens to this hijacking couple, what the airlines/government/FBI is going to do about these hijackings, and how you can understand the media’s prediament - you just want more and more hijacking stories and The Skies Belong to Us delivers on all of this and more. Anyone interrested in historical nonfiction/thriller would enjoy this as much as I did.
Today the fact that hijackings are as rare as they were once shockingly common (sometimes with multiple skyjackings on the same day) should make us actually appreciate TSA screenings. But maybe don’t read it on a plane like I did.
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I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.