Tally-ho! – the QR23 live media event

The Qatar Airways flight QR23 airborne show at Manchester, UK yesterday was a gift for the 24h news media. It was exciting, continued for several hours, and no-one got hurt.

The A330 was intercepted by an RAF Typhoon fighter during its approach to Manchester airport after the skipper told ATC there had been a bomb threat from a passenger.

The captain thought he’d better take the threat seriously just in case. The guilty passenger was undemonstrative, and had quietly handed the cabin crew a note containing the threat. They just left him there. No handcuffing dramas.

Most of the 269  passengers eventually became aware something was going on but had no idea what it was. Some got worried because of the Typhoon’s presence in loose formation.

Since Manchester was QR23′s scheduled destination, the skipper thought it made sense to tell the cabin crew to prepare for landing rather than inform everybody they were landing because there might be a bomb on board.

Meanwhile the “story” was already live on air. The tweets and telephone conversations between passengers and media started while the aircraft was still airborne. Videos of the intercept as seen by passengers were playing on the BBC News Channel before the passengers had been permitted to disembark.

In the terminal after disembarkation – in a surreal reversal of roles – the media were mobbed by passengers wanting personal airtime to post on Facebook. Many got it.

The passenger with the note? After landing the aircraft, as per security drills, taxied to a remote parking point, police boarded and arrested the man. He didn’t resist.

Now he has been sectioned for psychiatric assessment.

This event has the hallmarks of a classic passenger disruption. Most disruptors are either drunk or emotionally unstable. If they had deadly intent they would not announce it to anyone. With very few exceptions the incidents have a happy ending.

Why the Typhoon interception and all the fuss?

Watch this space - I’ll be posting a passenger’s guide to hijacks, bomb threats and interceptions later today.

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