Close calls in the sky are just part of the routine for the airline industry.

Pilots and controllers report scores of close calls each year, but that's normal 

Close calls in the sky are just part of the routine for the airline industry.

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He didn't have one.

According to the pilot's report, the young man broke down and explained that he had been a college intern for a ramp service for one month, which gave him flight passes and a temporary ID card that now had an altered date. He was heading for a wedding in Las Vegas with a friend, and he'd first boarded the flight in Philadelphia as an off-duty airport worker but realized during a layover that he might not be able to get a seat on the next flight. So he slipped past the boarding agent while she was distracted and hid in the plane's bathroom while the flight attendants were busy.

The pilot and the dispatcher agreed that they would continue to Las Vegas with the stowaway. Police picked him up when the plane landed.

The event sounds today like an almost charming relic of the pre-9/11 era, a far more tolerant time. Robert Raffel, an associate professor of Homeland Security at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with 17 years of experience in the FAA's Office of Civil Aviation Security, applauds the pilot's handling of the event as it was described in the report.

"The suspect was already aboard, and his reason for boarding was plausible (stupid, perhaps, but plausible)," Raffel tells The Pitch in an e-mail. "In my humble opinion, a sensible post-9/11 approach to security is one that takes into account common sense and experience and is not one in which everyone's hair is on fire."

Raffel believes that there has been an "eclipse of no-tolerance policies in favor of some common sense occasionally." Yet airline security remains vastly altered.

The Transportation Security Administration's experiments with patting down children and detaining grandmothers are well-documented. Getting less attention are other odd defensive crouches, as on March 4 of this year, when the nation's airlines executed a stealthy mass neutering of bathroom oxygen generators on 6,000 planes. That means less combustible oxygen for prospective terrorists to detonate — but no more working oxygen masks in bathrooms when planes have lost air pressure.

"In order to protect the traveling public, the FAA eliminated the problem before making the work public," the FAA said in a news release. "Had the FAA publicized the existence of this security vulnerability prior to airlines fixing it, thousands of planes across the U.S. and the safety of passengers could have been at risk."

One report from the NASA snitch-and-bitch database shows a CRJ-900 captain arguing that the move had endangered his flight.

"I did not know why the oxygen generators were removed from the lavatories and in what way this was related to security," the pilot wrote after reading a secretive memo notifying the crew that the tanks had been removed. The flight was scheduled to reach 35,000 feet, which the pilot noted would not normally be allowed with oxygen deactivated. "The note on the release left a lot of questions unanswered. I contacted the Dispatcher who told me that this was in response to a security threat whereby terrorists could use the O2 generators to make a bomb."

When the pilot told the flight attendants that there were no longer usable oxygen masks in the bathroom, they said they didn't know what to do if the cabin experienced rapid decompression. The pilot tried to contact a flight manager on the ground for answers.

The manager was hostile at first and told the pilot to "just operate the flight," the pilot reported, because "they didn't want 'everyone and his brother' to know about it."

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