Senator Ted Kennedy questioned Department of Homeland Security witnesses during a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2005 about the unjust nature of the no fly list to innocent Americans who are caught up in it.
Kennedy, who passed away in 2009, is back in the news in light of President Obama wanting Congress to pass legislation that would block individuals on the no fly list from gaining access to a firearm. The late senator himself once found himself on that same list.
“Right now, people on the no fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun,” Obama said in his weekly address. “And so I’m calling on Congress to close this loophole, now.”
“I got on the watch list last April,” Kennedy said at the 2005 hearing. I was taking a plane to Boston and I get out to USAir at about a quarter to seven and I get my ticket. And they say, ‘We can’t give it to you.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute there must be some sort of mix-up.’”
Kennedy continued to retell his experience at the ticket counter in Washington.
“And the person behind the gate said ‘I can’t sell it to you. You can’t buy a ticket to go on the airline to Boston.’ I said, ‘Well why not?’ They said, ‘we can’t tell you.’”
“Well I said, ‘Let me talk to the supervisor on that.’ This is five of seven and the plane is about to leave. And finally, the supervisor said OK.”
Kennedy first believed the problem stemmed from something that occurred at his office, but later discovered that was not the case. However, the airport irritation was not over.
When he attempted to board the return flight from Boston to Washington he was told he could not board the plane.
“I went up to the desk and I said I’ve been getting on this plane for 42 years, why can I get on the plane back…to Washington?”
“So my administrative assistant talked to the Department of Homeland Security and they said somebody made a mistake. It happened three more times. And finally Secretary [Tom] Ridge called to apologize. It happened even after he called to apologize, because my name was on the list at the airports and with the airlines and with the homeland security,” Kennedy said.
“He couldn’t even get my name off the list for a period of weeks. Now if they have that kind of difficulty for a member of Congress — my office has had a number of instances where we’ve had a leader of a distinguished medical school in New England and the list goes on, how in the world are average Americans who are going to get caught up in this kind of thing — how are they going to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?” Kennedy asked.
Another prominent member of Congress who dealt with being on the no fly list is Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis. Lewis’s spokeswoman told CNN in 2004 that he had been stopped “30 or 40 times” over the course of that year.
According to CNN, Lewis spoke with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security as well as executives at the airlines to no avail at the time.
Ultimately, Lewis was given a letter from the Transportation Security Administration that he could show ticket agents, but the letter cautioned he would still be subject to extra security checks before boarding a flight.
In one situation, CNN reported, TSA official took “every single item” out of Lewis’ luggage. Another time, after Lewis boarded, TSA officials questioned him at his seat.
Another “John Lewis” facing the same issues at the airport as the congressman contacted Rep. Lewis’ office after hearing of the Georgia representative’s troubles.