Terrorizing Ourselves?

The Experience

I was traveling to Malmö, Sweden to give a talk at a conference on “Building an Empathetic Company” by way of Norwegian Air via Copenhagen. It was a red-eye flight scheduled to leave at 9:55 PM.

Still from the video I shot. You can see the full one on Twitter @MsSapone



A crowd waits on the tarmac outside Arrivals in Terminal 1

Who knows how many people went through Customs without showing their passports? Passengers would later recount watching a stream of people, at least 40 people, running through Customs to the curb of Arrivals. This is significant, but not reported.

Bags and shoes were scattered throughout Baggage Claim. People started to line up again, but there was no real order, or clear direction. One guard asked me what flight I was on and led me to the front of the line at Customs. The white-faced security guard asked my name. He typed on his computer, seemed to look at a manifest, and waved me through, not making eye contact.

Inside the terminal

It seemed like we were free to leave. The Navy Seal texted me that he was already home in the city. My bag was still in the terminal, and passengers whispered to each other that flights were still leaving. Eventually a guard asked us to stand in line to go through Security.

For 1 hour and 30 minutes, I and others in this major American airport, in 2016, were in a true state of terror.

Did We Terrorize Ourselves?

If you saw the news, the headlines and message communicated “no big deal, move along”. That was not my experience. It was a big deal to me and hundreds of fellow passengers at JFK that night.

And not because it was scary, but because it’s scary how much of a discrepancy it is to what was officially reported.

At the end of the day, I went home and got on my flight the next day — exhausted and a little shaken — but just 24 hours later, I was back to living my life.

We live in one of the greatest, safest places that’s ever been and it’s our responsibility to uphold that greatness and safety.

Could the passengers have had a better reaction? It’s hard to know. Perhaps, our media and entertainment diet has us on edge?

No clear reaponse was given on what actually happened. We have to set a higher bar for ourselves and our institutions. We must learn together.

We can’t let fear stop transparent communication from authorities to the public. Suppressing, downplaying, or avoiding isn’t the safe or smart move. The preliminary official statement from the Port Authority suggested the response at JFK was acceptable and “tactically sound”. It would have been more reassuring if the authorities withheld any opinion on the quality of the response and shared real facts.

The media should not let the story fade away.

How is it possible that with so many people in the airport, no account like this has been shared outside of the New York Magazine piece?

Lets be better humans, please.

Get off the junk food diet of cursory reporting, PR masked-as-news, and non fact-checked opinion threads. Dont be a social media troll. The people that control the news, control perception. In many ways, we are more in control than we’ve ever been. The papers of yesterday may not be able to afford deep reporting, so we need to do it ourselves and demand better with our attention, wallets, and time.

And to take it full circle. We all need to practice a hell of a lot more empathy for others and ourselves.

People throughout the world go through worse experiences than this, everyday. It’s a good lesson for all of us to realize how good we have it — and appreciate the security we do have — but to understand that there won’t always be a room behind a room ensuring our safety. This can happen to you. So let’s be grateful and not take the safety we do have for granted, but we need to stay alert.



Lit up all year long. CEO & Co-Founder of @HelloAlfred.

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