ATLANTA – Delta Air Lines' chief is upset the 278 passengers and 11 crew members aboard Flight 253 were put at risk by a suspected terrorist despite the carrier's compliance with government security measures.
CEO Richard Anderson told employees in a recorded message Thursday that airlines have done everything the government has asked since 9/11 to follow advanced passenger notification requirements and heightened screening measures.
He said that should have brought a better result than the peril those aboard the Christmas flight from Amsterdam to Detroit faced. Delta will insist Washington do a better job.
"Having this occur again is disappointing to all of us," Anderson said. He added, "You can be certain we will make our points very clearly in Washington."
According to authorities, a Nigerian man who said he was an agent for al-Qaida tried and failed to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight as it prepared to land.
Delta owns Northwest.
Anderson said the crew aboard the flight will receive commendations from the airline next week "for their diligence and the work they did to make sure everybody got to Detroit safely." He did not elaborate. Delta is offering travel credits to the passengers on the flight.
The Transportation Security Administration, formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to oversee the security of the nation's transportation systems, said in a statement Friday that following the recent attempted attack it implemented additional security measures domestically and on international flights to the U.S. to protect the traveling public. It said U.S. officials are heading to several international airports next week to meet with their counterparts there and review security procedures for flights bound for the U.S.
The 23-year-old suspect in the Flight 253 incident, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, arrived in Amsterdam on Dec. 25 from Lagos, Nigeria, on a KLM flight. Air France-KLM has a joint venture with Delta that involves sharing costs and revenue on trans-Atlantic flights.
After a layover of less than three hours in the international departure hall, the suspect passed through a security check at the gate in Amsterdam, including a hand baggage scan and a metal detector, and headed to the Northwest flight. He did not pass through a full-body scanner.
Officials said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosive device, including 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the aircraft toilet, then planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals. Passengers intervened, and the plan failed.
The episode has prompted a review of U.S. security policies.
Last spring, TSA began taking over responsibility of matching airline passenger lists to watch lists prior to domestic commercial flights taking off. That duty had been in the hands of individual airlines previously.
Under the TSA program, airlines gather a passenger's full name, date of birth, and gender when making an airline reservation to determine if the passenger is a match to the watch lists. TSA said in March that by late 2009 it expected to take over responsibility for the watch list matching function for passengers on international flights from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and international air carriers. It said at the time its goal was to vet all domestic commercial flights by early 2010 and all international commercials flights by the end of 2010. A spokeswoman said Friday the agency was still phasing in the program.
TSA noted that President Barack Obama has ordered reviews on airport security measures and on watchlist policies and procedures.
Abdulmutallab's name was in one expansive database, but he never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorist screeners, despite his father's warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria. Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab's U.S. visa being revoked.
U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to destroy an aircraft.
Delta, which bought Northwest in October 2008, obtained government permission Thursday to operate the two carriers as one.
The single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration allows Delta to put its code on Northwest flights and phase out the Northwest name. That process will be complete in the first quarter of 2010. For now, travelers won't notice anything different.