Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

US authorities are not horsing around

If you think that being a passenger on one of the longest flights in the Western hemisphere is bad enough, imagine being a flying horse. In equestrian class, the legroom might be better. But the catering is even less appetising than in economy, and the in-flight entertainment non-existent - not even a re-run of National Velvet.

If you think that being a passenger on one of the longest flights in the Western hemisphere is bad enough, imagine being a flying horse. In equestrian class, the legroom might be better. But the catering is even less appetising than in economy, and the in-flight entertainment non-existent - not even a re-run of National Velvet.

The 15 racehorses travelling in the cargo section of KLM flight 685 from Amsterdam to Mexico City last weekend should have arrived in the high-altitude capital in good time to catch the Grand National on satellite TV. Instead of making the acquaintance of some Mexican mares, they found themselves back at the starting gate: Schiphol airport. Their mistake, like that of the 278 human passengers, was to be travelling on a Jumbo jet whose flight plan took it over part of the western US.

For three years, the American authorities have been routinely delving into the passenger lists of foreign airlines flying to their territory. On Christmas Eve 2003, for example, some unfortunate Welsh passengers changing planes in Paris found that their unusual names made them non grata in the US, and an Air France flight to Los Angeles was cancelled. Over the following months, many more transatlantic flights were scrapped on the orders of the Americans. Indeed, BA223 from Heathrow to Washington was cancelled, delayed and escorted in by fighter jets so often that the airline eventually changed the flight number.

Now it has become clear that you could find your background investigated by the security agencies even if you have no wish to visit the US, but have merely chosen a flight that happens to be routed through US airspace.

The Boeing 747 from Amsterdam with its payload of horses took a normal routing towards Mexico City: heading north-west over Scotland towards the Arctic, then crossing eastern Canada towards the US border. When the plane had been airborne for nearly six hours, and was approaching the frontier, the Department of Homeland Security identified two individuals among the passengers who were apparently on a "no-fly" list.

At least it is not yet standard procedure to divert any such plane to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where the "suspects" could be detained indefinitely without trial. Instead, the captain was told to abandon the journey, turn around and fly back to Amsterdam. At the end of what turned out to be a real non-stop flight, the pair upon whom suspicion had fallen were promptly allowed to go free. Several hundred people and the non-running horses were left to contemplate their 5,000-mile flight to nowhere, and the fact that they faced the same journey again once a plane and crew could be found. Meanwhile, the airline began to calculate how much had been squandered by the US decision. The short-term cost to Air France-KLM in terms of fuel, salaries, air-traffic control, hotels and general disruption could total a quarter of a million pounds; longer term, any incident like this does nothing to enhance a carrier's reputation - even if, like Air France-KLM, it has just won a leading industry award.

The misadventure could also harm tourism in the Caribbean and Central America. There is evidence that travellers to this part of the world are switching away from flights via US airports to minimise hassle; but since many routes from Europe pass over US airspace, some travellers may decide to simply go east or south, not west.

The Americans are entitled to make up whatever rules they wish about the use of their airspace. Washington can exclude individuals even if the rest of the world thinks it absurd to do so - as witnessed when a United Airlines jet from Heathrow to Washington carrying the peace campaigner Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), was forced to land so that the singer could be offloaded and deported.

The appetite of the security services is, however, far from sated. From 6 June, passengers flying to, from or over the US will be obliged to provide additional personal details, including home address and passport expiry date. This extra information could provoke yet more pointless diversions. Along with the misery caused to human and equine passengers, each incident diminishes the reputation of the US.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform