The message was on a continuous loop, repeated every 15 minutes. Something about never leaving suitcases unattended, keeping suitcases in your possession at all times, and a caution about accepting bags from strangers. The message mercifully ended with, “If you see something, say something.”
Sam sat at gate 14 in Newark International Airport waiting to board an early morning plane to Portland, Oregon. He saw something, a woman in a niqab, her face concealed but her eyes uncovered. And Sam didn’t trust those eyes. He didn’t like the oversized handbag she carried either, but he convinced himself that the woman had to have passed through security, so hopefully she was clean. She appeared to have an unnatural interest in the other passengers waiting to board the flight. She seemed to study each passenger. Her gaze met Sam’s. He turned away.
Boarding time. Sam couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. There was something about the woman, in addition to her appearance that worried Sam. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but her movements were those of someone anxious. Maybe she just didn’t like flying? Sam thought about that. Sure, that was it. He tried to convince himself everything would be fine. Still, Sam knew that he’d try to keep a close watch on her during the flight until safely landing in Portland.
On board, Sam lucked out. He sat in 12C, her seat, 11D. Sam had a perfect vantage point of the woman and her suspicious handbag. She pulled a magazine from the seat in front and without reading, flipped the pages. On takeoff, the woman gripped her armrests. Once airborne the pilot, Captain Winters turned off the cabin lights. Sam looked around. Most passengers slept. A few read. The woman did neither. She simply sat, looking around.
Roughly midway between Newark and Portland, Sam saw the cockpit door open. Captain Winters emerged, said something to the flight attendant, and entered the restroom. The flight attendant stood in front of the cockpit door. Sam watched as a man in first class stood and waited for the bathroom. The pilot finished his business and the first class passenger began speaking to him. The woman in 11D seemed to take an interest. She sat up straighter and leaned her head toward the aisle in order to get a better look. Sam’s eyes were riveted on the woman. His heart pounded. He had a really bad feeling now that something awful was about to happen. No one other than Sam noticed. The woman calmly undid her seatbelt, reached into her handbag, pulled out a gun, and stood in the aisle.
It was time for Sam to say something. “Gun!” he yelled. “That woman has a gun!” Amidst screams and cries, Sam undid his seatbelt and jumped the woman but not before she fired off one round, striking the back shoulder of the first class passenger engaged with the pilot.
After an emergency landing in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sam sat in the airport’s main TSA office shaking his head.
“Captain Winters is unharmed and the wounded man will live,” explained a Mr. Rollins from the Department of Homeland Security. “We’ll find out why he brought that nylon chord on board and attempted to strangle Captain Winters. Oh, look who’s here, our hero.”
“I had no idea. You saved us all. I’m so sorry,” Sam said after being introduced to the flight’s air marshal, the woman in 11D.