Northwest Airlines Flight 253 : Myths & Facts

27/12/2009 – Northwest Airlines Flight 253 : Myths & Facts

There are many myths regarding Delta Air Lines Flight 253 (NW253), Operated by Northwest Airlines and the events of the day that lead to Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab igniting an incendiary device on-board the flight, on the 25th of December.

While it is difficult to address all the myths and facts as they unfold, I’d like to address some of the more rampant myths for factual clarity surrounding NW253.

Myth – Flight 253 was a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight from Amsterdam
Fact – Flight 253 was a Delta Air Lines flight operated by Northwest Airlines. KLM was a code-share partner, with passengers purchasing tickets for flight 6253.

Myth – KLM was responsible for security in Lagos, Nigeria & Delta Air Lines was responsible for security in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Fact – Airport security in both airports, as in virtually all airports, is handled by a 3rd party agency unrelated to the airlines.

Myth – Airport security made mistakes allowing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board the flight
Fact – All airport security is looking for is a valid boarding pass and proper documentation, and Abdulmutallab had proper documentation

Myth – KLM and Delta Air Lines made an error in allowing Abdulmutallab to fly with their airlines with short time left on his travel visa.
Fact – Abdulmutallab’s travel visa to the United States exceeded the required 90 days, thus neither airline could deny him boarding due to visa regulations

Myth – KLM & Delta Air Lines should have red-flagged Abdulmutallab’s reservation since he purchased his ticket in cash in Ghana.
Fact – The purchase of airline tickets in cash in some African nations is quite common due to the economic stability financial institutions in the region. This is not generally a red-flag for flights out of Lagos, Nigeria

Myth – NW253 started in Lagos, Nigeria and connected through Amsterdam, Netherlands
Fact – Abdulmutallab boarded KLM Flight 588 (Delta-Northwest code-share flight 8588) in Lagos Nigeria on the 24th of Dec, arrived in Amsterdam shortly after 5:00am on the 25th of December, then connected to NW253(KL6253), which departed AMS just before 9:00am on the 25th.

Myth – The European Union’s Schengen Agreement is at fault for lax security and allowing Abdulmutallab to travel undetected.
Fact – The EU Schengen Agreement involved 24 EU nations; Nigeria and the United States are in no way involved in the Schengen Agreement. Schengen travel allows for free travel, without a passport, between 24 EU nations and has nothing to do with airport security screening procedures.

I won’t discuss the facts surrounding how or why Abdulmutallab was allowed to fly undetected at this time, as those facts are developing. It is known that Abdulmutallab’s father reported his suspicion of his son’s activities to the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria and that US intelligence determined that Abdulmutallab was not a credible threat.  It is also known that Abdulmutallab popped up in another context of US national security but was not found to be a viable threat at that time.

At this time, I am also choosing not addressing how Abdulmutallab may have brought his incendiary device on board NW253. I will say this though; the manner in which Abdulmutallab was likely transporting his incindiary device was in a manner, which would be fully undetectable by airport security at any airport.

As the facts of the security lapses that allowed Abdulmutallab to fly on NW253 unfold I will be revisiting this topic.

Remember this when travelling… See Something? Say Something!

Happy Flying!



  1. What I don’t understand is why he was not singled out for a secondary investigation – like they do in the US when you get the SSSS on your boarding pass. Should have been enough information to profile him and check a bit closer.

  2. Bruce,

    There is no question that appearing on an intelligence watch list or potential terrorists; the UK denying him a visa based on him providing false information and his father informing the US Embassy that he suspected his son’s motives should have all been red-flags for addition screening.

    Where and how the components of the device were hidden however may not have been discovered in a traditional secondary screening.

    Happy Flying!


  3. “I will say this though; the manner in which Abdulmutallab was likely transporting his incindiary device was in a manner, which would be fully undetectable by airport security at any airport.”

    Seems to me like a device like the GE EntryScan (in use at SFO for at least the past four years, if not longer; pretty sure comparable devices would be made by at least one or two other companies) would have picked up PETN residue rather trivially.

    What specific reasons make you think this would be “fully undetectable”?


  4. [initial post swallowed my attempt at a URL. it is h t t p:// ]

  5. JJ

    I am choosing not to comment on why I believe the device would have been undetectable at this time. Last week I probably would have answered you…this week I am forced to rethink certain replies.

    Happy Flying!


  6. @flyingfish: Thanks for the response. Out of curiosity, do you have a background in chemistry or physics or something comparable that would lead you to come to such a conclusion?


  7. JJ,

    I do not have a chemistry or physics background. However I know how the current screening systems work which gives me insight into what I am saying here .

    Happy Flying!


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