Saturday, September 11, 2010
Memorial flag at Gate 32, Boston Logan Airport, Terminal B, American Airlines (Source: patrickmadrid.blogspot.com)
When did the passengers of Flight 11 embark on the plane? After nine years, this seemingly easy question is still lacking an answer. The 9/11 Commission Report doesn't deliver one, instead it confronts us with surprising boarding data:
See TSA report, "Selectee Status of September 11th Hijackers," undated. For boarding and seating information, see AAL record, SABRE information on Flight 11, Sept. 11, 2001. These boarding times from the American system are approximate only; for flight 11 they indicated that some passengers boarded after the aircraft had pushed back from the gate. See AAL response to the Commission's February 3, 2004, requests, Mar. 15, 2004. (9/11 Commisson Report, note #9 of Chapter 1)
Example: Given that Flight 11 pushed back at 7:40*** (see appendix). Now the Commission claims: if a passenger passed the gate at 7:37 (before the push-back), the system logged his boarding time as 7:50 (or 8:00 or whatever time after the push-back). This sizeable time gap smells funny and shows that the Commission's explanation for the oddity is concise, but far from conclusive. And indeed it doesn't withstand a closer scrutiny.
The cited note indicates that the Commission sent a request to American Airlines on February 3, 2004, which was answered at March 15, 2004. In 2009, this response was released to the public.
American previously has provided the Commission with documents that indicate the approximate times that passengers boarded AA Flights 11 and 77 and the approximate check-in times at the main ticket counters at the respective airports. These documents are Kean Commission Bates numbers 004658-004675 (Flight 77) and 004483-004518 (Flight 11) and are from American's Electronic Gate Reader ("EGR") records. The EGR records do not provide the exact time of individual passenger check-in, the check-in location (ticket counter vs. departure gate), or the identification of the check-in agent.
The EGR system for a particular flight is manually initiated by the gate agent usually several hours prior to boarding. The initation of the EGR system is done at the discretion of the gate agent. At initiation, the system downloads information for the flight, such as the names of all passengers holding reservations, check in status, seat assignment (if pre-reserved), booking class, and destination city.
Following system initation, the EGR system "polls" the Sabre passenger reservation system for any updates to this data. Prior to the start of boarding, the updates occur at approximately 15-minute intervals and provide a "snapshot" of any changes in information since the last update. For this reason, the ticket counter check-in times from the EGR system reflect only "approximate" times. During actual boarding of the flights, the "polling" process occurs more frequently, at approximately 15-second intervals. The EGR records the time that a passenger's boarding pass goes through the EGR and, provides an accurate record of when the passenger boards the aircraft.
The 9/11 Commissioners ignore this difference. Why does their report insinuate that the inaccurate boarding times are inherent in the SABRE system if American Airlines declares in plain language that the system "provides an accurate record of when the passenger boards the aircraft"? Either the gentlemen did not read AA's answer (?), or didn't understand it (???), or they decided to cease further inquiries and try to get away with a half-baked explanation ("approximate only"). An internal working draft from May 2004 shows that likely the latter is the case:
At 7:31 a.m. Wail Al-Shehri and Waleed Al-Shehri boarded American Flight #11. At 7:39 a.m. Atta and al Omari embarked on the aircraft and al Suqami boarded at 7:40 a.m. (PLACEHOLDER: THESE TIMES, WHICH ARE PULLED FROM AA'S SABRE RESPONSE SYSTEM, NEED FURTHER VERIFICATION BECAUSE THAT REPORT HAS SOME OTHER PASSENGERS "BOARDING" AFTER THE FLIGHT HAD PUSHED BACK).