Want Greta's blog delivered directly to your e-mail box? Click here to sign up!
I have posted pictures today from our quick transatlantic trip to cover the terrorist plot that was thwarted. I tried to tell a story with the posted pics — the first shows the security line at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. The line was literally doubled up and winding throughout the airport. It was hard to find the end of the line to begin standing in it. Apparently the security people got a bit tired of telling passengers what they could and could not bring, so one security person got rather industrious (see the pic).
My surprise trip to London started Thursday about 6 a.m. with a wake-up call from management at FOX in New York City. I had read until 3 a.m., so the call caught me off guard — yes, asleep and quit drowsy. When I picked up the call I heard: There has been a terrorism plot thwarted in London. Can you go... get on a plane and fly to London? I said, "Yes, of course. I will get up right now and get moving." I then asked in my drowsy state, "What was the plot?" Answer: To blow up 10 planes flying across the Atlantic. I then sarcastically thought, in my drowsy state, how long will the QE2 take to get me there? Ten planes crossing the ocean? Isn't that where and how I was going to travel? Ugh... oh well.
As I took my shower I wondered, how am I going to explain this one to my husband? (He was out of town Wednesday and Thursday.) Flying across the ocean in the midst of a terror threat to planes flying across the ocean! Not sure how this one will go over on the home front. As it turned out, I did reach him and he said, "Be careful." Bottom line: This is part of the job and both of us and all people in this business know that. We do what is needed, but admittedly there is always a question in the back of our minds about our own security. I was happy to be asked to go and glad to go.
I traveled with three colleagues from Washington and we met up with a cameraman at Heathrow Airport. Our cameraman's name is Andrew, he is Australian and had just gotten back from Beirut. (By the way, he was with FNC's Greg Burke in Beirut for almost a month and may be headed back there very soon.) We arrived Thursday night about 9 p.m. London time (there's a five-hour time difference) and immediately started interviewing people at Heathrow Airport. We then headed for the live shot to get ready for our show (airs 3 a.m. London time.) The live shot overlooked Heathrow adjacent to an airport. We got a room at the airport to give ourselves some workspace to prepare for the show.
On Friday we got up very early because we had much we wanted to do. Plus, one of my producers who was traveling with me made a mistake about time and gave us an unusually early wake-up call. We teased her all day and she did not deny it. As a result of her Friday wake-up call, we worked an entire British day and then an entire Eastern Time Zone day, since the show ended, of course, on Saturday at 4 a.m. London time.
We had an interesting Friday with Andrew our shooter: We traveled around the London area visiting the homes of some of the men arrested and talking to people who know them. The pics of the homes are posted so that you get a little better idea of the story. By the way, I thought it odd in the London Times' newspaper report about the arrests that each described the homes... and stranger when the homes were built: "...lives in a 1980s home" or "owns a 1970s home." What did the date of construction mean to the story?
I also posted a picture of producer Alastair Wanklyn. We worked with him when we were in London in early July for our shows on the anniversary of the bombings to the London mass transit system. Yes, we saw Alastair on Thursday's show... but then he vanished. Where? Apparently he left for Iraq. He is in Baghdad for a month. That is what is so odd about our business: You travel a lot and you travel to some unusual places.
My colleague Trace Gallagher showed up in London on Friday night. I teased him because just 48 hours earlier he had left the Israel-Lebanon border, flown home — across the Atlantic Ocean — to New York, and suddenly was back on a plane, flying back across the ocean to London. And it got a bit crazier: He also spent five hours on the runway at JFK en route to London and sat on the ground for one hour when the plane landed in London. Despite the insanity of flying back and forth across the ocean with no break, Trace was laughing about it. He is a very good sport. It also helps that in our business we see people who really suffer, so a little inconvenience is nothing. Remember, Trace just came from war... with people dying. Sitting on the tarmac for five hours is minor compared to what we see others endure.
While I was in London, I watched Al Jazeera. As I am sure you know, I don't speak Arabic, but I was curious, from a production point of view, about their channel. I was surprised by the format during the time I watched. A man was asked a question by a woman anchor (I assume she asked him a question) and then he talked and talked and talked. It was the longest answer I ever heard. I made out only a few words. I heard "Bush" (several times), "banana republic" (one time) and "Washington" (a few times). I don't know why the use of "banana republic" and I don't know which country the speaker was speaking about. I only distinctly heard it within the long answer I could not understand. For some reason it struck me as odd that in the middle of the Arabic talking that there were words that I could clearly understand. As an aside, I was also struck by how little video was shown while I watching their channel. American cable news uses more video when someone is speaking. I wondered if perhaps I was listening to an important person that the channel did not want to cover with video or if they are a less visual medium that American cable.
On Friday, as noted above, we went out to the area where some of the arrestees live. It was hard to get neighbors to talk about the arrestees, but one Brit (Maverick) agreed to talk to us because he recognized me from the O.J. Simpson trial. Yes, that trial was 11 years ago and an ocean away, but this Brit watched it and apparently watched a lot of it to remember me after all these years. As I walked up the street, and as he sat in his front yard, he said, "I know you." I was pleased that he would talk to us.
After Friday night's show — 10 p.m. ET, but 3 a.m. London time — we went straight to Heathrow Airport. We booked ourselves on a 7 a.m.-ish flight back to the USA. It did not make sense to go to a hotel for an hour or two and then get up, check out and head the airport during rush-hour traffic. We were already sleepless... why not add a few more hours to that? We left the police station where the arrested men are being held and where we were doing our show at about 4:15 a.m. Andrew drove us to Heathrow.
When we arrived at Heathrow, we were stunned. There were thousands of people standing in lines. And lines to what? It was nearly impossible to figure out which line led you to which airline ticket counter... and of course we were not the only ones very confused. We talked to people who had been trying to get out of London for many international destinations for two-plus days. Some had been staying the entire time at the airport.
We got enormously lucky: a United agent came out to where we were and asked for passengers on our particular United flight. Suddenly we were moving. We got to the ticket counter and each of us was handed a plastic bag. We were told we could take a passport and money on the plane. That was it. No more carry on. (I later learned that people could take prescriptions.) That meant laptops, cameras, etc., were not going to be carried-on... they had to go into the belly of the plane. But the big shocker? No newspapers, books or magazines. We wanted to be safe — of course — but we did sort of laugh that we would be in an airplane for eight hours and virtually nothing to do. Can you really drag out reading the airline in flight magazine to eight hours?! As for talking to each other, we had already been talking to each other since we left Thursday morning and we were "talked out" with each other.
We winded our way from the ticket counter to security (it seemed like miles from the ticket counter, but maybe I thought that because we had no sleep for days. At least we were not lugging lots of heavy carry-on with cameras and computers!)
At security it was strange to see all these people standing in line with identical plastic bags and each bag containing identical items: passport and cash. There was an impressive show of force: law enforcement with automatic weapons. Security moved so fast despite the number of people because no one had any carry on bags. It was free flowing. We did go through the typical metal detector and each passenger got a pretty thorough and personal pat down. But without carry-on luggage it went so fast.
We were then sent to an area to wait, but not told of the gate number for our flight. I was not sure whether the airline had not yet assigned the gate or just did not want to tell "bad" passengers where to find that United transatlantic fight to Washington, D.C. Remember, that is what the terrorists were looking for: a transatlantic United flight, to Washington D.C. Frankly, I think the reason we were not told the gate is a security reason: that is how careful everyone was being.
We followed the directions and went to the designated spot to wait for the gate announcement and about an hour later an announcement was made that our flight would be late boarding. Why? Per the announcement the flight caterers were "stuck" in security. I was happy to wait (although a bit fearful we would all fall asleep and miss the flight.) I was glad that even the caterers were getting looked at. I also liked that we were updated with the straight story rather than be left in the dark as to why the flight was late in boarding.
As we sat and waited we still talked (even sort of laughed... maybe a nervous laugh or fatigue induced, since obviously the security is/was important ) about everyone walking around with identical plastic bags. It looked positively bizarre. Not your usual scene at an airport: no carry-ons, no purse, no laptops, no magazines, no newspapers — just plastic bags with visible passports and cash.
A short time later we were told what gate to go to and we once again — with our identical plastic bags — began the endless march (Heathrow is SO big!) Upon arrival at the gate we again got searched — patted down again — and we had to show our passports and other travel documents. Our names were also written down — I assume to match to other lists. We joined fellow passengers in the waiting area — and yes, hundreds with matching plastic bags.
Upon boarding the plane, it was obvious there were several air marshals already on board and I was happy to see them. I was also told that United flew a full charter 777 to London two days earlier with only air marshals. The point was to get many air marshals to London to accompany the many flights across the ocean to the USA by all the carriers.
The actual boarding of the plane was surreal. Usually it takes forever to board a jumbo jet because people are bringing everything they own on board. Because we only had those plastic bags the boarding seemed to take only five minutes. It was so fast that it was strange. People just got on and marched to their seats and we left. Needless to say, there was no fight for overhead space.
I was worried I would go stir crazy on an 8-hour flight without a book, but I was so tired that I fell asleep and missed the actual take off. I fell asleep as we pulled away from the terminal. The same was true of my colleagues: we were exhausted, but pleased with what we had accomplished while in the U.K. I managed to sleep about six hours of the flight so it was easy. I am not sure what I would have done to pass time if I had not slept. I like reading on planes.
I expected a huge problem upon landing at Dulles Airport in D.C. The only problem was that they could not get the jetway up to the plane — not sure why, but I am sure unrelated to the terrorism plot. We disembarked from the rear of the plane into a mobile people mover at the rear of the plane.
I braced myself for a 90-minute or longer wait for bags. Even before this plot, you could wait an hour for your bag at Dulles (or not get the bag at all!) I figured that because all the baggage on our jumbo transatlantic plane was put in the belly of the plane — no carry on — that there would be mass confusion and that it would take absolutely forever to get the bags to the baggage carousel inside the terminal.
I guess everyone rose to the occasion. The bags were off quickly (I have never seen it so fast) and we went through customs and out the door. It was fast. It went well and yes, the passengers were still holding their identical plastic bags but now had their luggage with them, too.
As you might imagine, I was delighted to get back to the USA safely. I always like returning home. I thought the airline responded quickly and well to this serious problem. Some may not be happy with their experiences — I have read nightmare stories from passengers since my return — but mine was a good one.
OK, so if you have read this far, you know what the security situation is for transatlantic flights from the U.K. to U.S. — or at least my experience. I am not sure how this security level will change or if it will. We obviously have a serious terrorism problem and of course this increased security creates an enormous burden on our already troubled airline industry. It is also tough on passengers.
It is plain that we have huge challenges facing us on how to handle this long term.
Now for some of your e-mails:
E-mail No. 1
Greta, I enjoyed your story about your brother locking you in the attic and turning out the lights! My older brother used to dunk my head in the dirty dish water in the sink! I think you had the better deal... lol.
E-mail No. 2
I had to laugh when I read your blog today and your comments on your brother. I am from a family of 10 children, so I think I can relate to what you said. Some of my brothers and sisters have no idea what I have accomplished in my life, such as 20 years with one company as credit manager, releasing shipments to all over the U.S., Canada, Europe, Mexico, Asia and points unknown. Some still cling to the memory of a shy, skinny, fairly smart, nose in a book sort of girl that always tried to please. I have witnessed throughout the years that my knowledge and drive have shocked some of my siblings. Where do they think we have been? I remember all about my brothers and sisters in their younger years but also recognize what they have accomplished and where they are today. Childhood is wonderful and I will cherish those memories forever… but I would never go back. Love your blog!
E-mail No. 3
Greta, great blog today. Deedee in L.A. is the heartbeat of America. Thanks for sharing her e-mail. I'm a product of divorce back in the '60s when it was not the proper thing to do. That is probably why I'm a live in the moment type of person. Not looking to the past or looking to the future but living in the moment. I read an interesting quote today, "Everytime we log on, we participate in a global mind and brain" — Rabbi Irwin Kula. As a side note: Our older brothers must have some intergalactic connection. Always be aware of your surroundings, to find a second exit and carry some type of light source with you.
E-mail No. 4
Let me give you a quick overview of MY situation. I live in Florida... I had joint custody with my ex of my two girls, but they lived with me most of the time. Because their father went on Welfare, the state came after me and made ME pay HIM child support! Here I was... single mom, the only parent with a job, and they expected me to pay him $300 a month! Needless to say, I didn't have the money, so they eventually suspended my driver's license and took all of my income tax return money. I had to hire an attorney, but in the end it was my letter campaign to the governor, the senators, and the Child Support Enforcement Office that finally turned the tables. I now have sole custody of my children, and the state allowed my ex to "forgive" all the back child support and they happily refunded my tax return money. It was a God-awful nightmare that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. The state was willing to put me in a situation where I would've had to go on welfare just to pay their father child support. The system is BROKEN! We need major reform, and I would be more than happy to lend some of my ideas... if they would listen.
E-mail No. 5
You wore a blue jacket and yellow blouse the other night. It was really ugly on TV and didn't become you. Don't wear it again.
Send your thoughts and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch "On the Record" weeknights at 10 p.m. ET