TIMBUKTU, Mali - In early 2008, an official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent a report to his superiors detailing the most significant development in aircraft usage since 2001: al Qaeda has been operating a rogue aviation network. Francis Baldhamer, the official who issued the report, also noted that this increased competition, which promises fares much lower than U.S. airlines, threatens to weaken the already faltering transportation industry.
Baldhamer's document warned that a growing fleet of al Qaeda jet aircraft was regularly crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean. On one end of the air route, it said, are cocaine-producing areas in the Andes controlled by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. On the other are some of West Africa's most unstable countries.
Baldhamer said, "For one thing, these aren't destinations your typical American tourist would be interested in. But, these aircraft do hopscotch across South American countries, picking up tons of cocaine. For the recreational enthusiast, mega church pastor or financial services industry executive, this beats the hell out of in-flight movies and stale snacks."
But without the same stringent safety standards imposed on U.S. operators by regulators, there exist few measurable assurances of quality.
"Prospective travelers should be wary of al Qaeda's service," Baldhamer asserted. "Since its inception, this airline has demonstrated the most atrocious safety record in aviation history."
In the fall of 2001, the airline crashed two of its planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and many others working in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours, destroying neighboring structures and damaging others. Al Qaeda pilots crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. A fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the plane. Baldhamer emphasized that "all of these incidents, or 'deals' as air traffic controllers call them, took place on the very same day. There were no survivors from any of the flights."
"Personally," Baldhamer continued, "I don't give a tinker's damn how low their fares are or if they offer free coke on the flights, I won't be booking any trips through them."
When asked about the service's free, unlimited baggage check policy and no restrictions on bringing liquids aboard, Baldhamer replied, "Well, that would be worth considering. But only for domestic flights."