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TODAY'S STORY:

When Mr. Godfrey took a book along for the flight, the cover got him booted!

Novel security and cover stories muddy today's tale of the Thought Police.

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  • WILD FRIDAY
    Cover Story
    By Ace in the Hole

       EDITOR: This weekend we feature a story about a poor lad in Philadelphia who discovered that the cover of a book was enough to get him booted off a plane! Beware what you think, beware what you say, and beware what you read, because the authorities are ready to read into anything!

       Here is some of what City News reporter Gwen Shaffer had to say about poor Mr. Godfrey:


       Neil Godfrey arrived at Philadelphia International Airport around 9:30 a.m. on Wed., Oct. 10. His brother’s girlfriend dropped him off with plenty of time to spare before his 11:40 a.m. United Airlines flight. Godfrey was on his way to Phoenix, where his parents live. From there, the family was planning to head out for a vacation at Disneyland.

       His outfit that day was typical: black Dockers, a T-shirt with a logo for the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette newspaper and New Balance running shoes. He has a medium build, recently dyed jet-black hair and a quiet demeanor.

       As he passed through the metal detector, an airport security guard furrowed his brow at Godfrey’s reading selections as they disappeared through the conveyor belt. On the cover of the book, Hayduke Lives! by Edward Abbey, is an illustration of a man’s hand holding several sticks of dynamite. The 1991 novel is about a radical environmentalist, George Washington Hayduke III, who blows up bridges, burns tractors and sabotages other projects he believes are destroying the beautiful Southwest landscape.

       "For the first time, it occurred to me the book may be a problem," Godfrey recalls.

       He proceeded through the security checkpoint and sat down to read near his boarding gate. About 10 minutes had passed when a National Guardsman approached Godfrey.

       "He told me to step aside," Godfrey says. "Then he took my book and asked me why I was reading it."

       Within minutes, Godfrey says, Philadelphia Police officers, Pennsylvania State Troopers and airport security officials joined the National Guardsman. About 10 to 12 people examined the novel for 45 minutes, scratching out notes the entire time. They also questioned Godfrey about the purpose of his trip to Phoenix.

       The fact that Godfrey recently dropped out of Temple University and has yet to find a job may have piqued suspicion of law enforcement officials even more.

       "The fact that I don’t work or go to school may have contributed to them thinking I have nothing to live for," Godfrey speculates.

       Eventually, one of the law enforcement officials told Godfrey his book was "innocuous" and he would be allowed to board the plane.

       "I was pretty shaken up," he says. "But I also felt guilty that I hadn’t realized bringing this book to the airport may cause a problem."

       Another 10 minutes or so passed while he sat in the waiting area. A female United employee — Godfrey failed to jot down her name — came over and informed him that he wouldn’t be allowed to fly, "for three reasons."

       The first reason, she said, was that Godfrey was reading a book with an illustration of a bomb on the cover. Secondly, she said, he purchased his ticket on Sept. 11. (Godfrey bought the ticket on Priceline.com shortly after midnight, at least eight hours before the World Trade Center was attacked).

       And the final reason cited by the United employee was that Godfrey’s Arizona driver’s license had expired. The employee pointed to a date to substantiate this allegation.

       "No," Godfrey told her. "That’s the day the license was issued."

       The woman then pointed to another date on the card, Feb. 17, 2000, contending it was the expiration date. Godfrey countered that the date identified him as "under 21" until then.

       "Too bad, it’s too late," the flight attendant informed him.

       A defeated and disappointed Godfrey reclaimed his luggage and was escorted out of the airport.

       When he got home, Godfrey did what a lot of guys do when they need consoling — he phoned his mom.

       Godfrey’s mother offered to call United and attempt to straighten things out. A central reservation clerk assured her that her son was not banned from ever flying United again. She booked him on a different flight to Phoenix, this one departing Philadelphia at 3:04 p.m. that same afternoon.

       Godfrey scurried back to the airport, leaving the Abbey novel at home. He exchanged it for a seemingly benign novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

       When Godfrey arrived at the airport around 1:15 p.m., his luggage was again searched. But as Godfrey passed through the metal detector, a police officer recognized him from the commotion just a few hours earlier. The cop pulled Godfrey aside and made a few phone calls. Ultimately, he declared that everything checked out fine. But a National Guardsman standing nearby vetoed that decision.

       "This time, they took my Harry Potter book and about four people studied it for 20 minutes," Godfrey says.

       Finally, at about 1:45 p.m., officials apparently felt reassured that Godfrey was not a security threat. They told Godfrey he would be permitted on the plane, but that he couldn’t pass through security until 2:30 p.m.

       At the appointed time, an escort took Godfrey through security, while at least 15 law enforcement officials looked on. Rather than taking Godfrey directly to his gate, however, he was ushered into a private interrogation room.

       "They patted me down and found nothing," Godfrey says. But when he emerged from this room, Burt Zastera, supervisor of airport operations for United, told him he would not be allowed to fly.

       "He told me he didn’t know the reason why, that he was ‘just conveying the information,’" Godfrey recalls. Zastera gave Godfrey a contact number he could call for a full explanation.

       Godfrey’s father called that number and was told his son was banned from flying United because he cracked "a joke about bombs."

       "That is totally false," Godfrey says, pointing out that no one at the airport ever mentioned this to him. Plus, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations stipulate that any passenger who jokes about explosives be arrested on the spot. By contrast, Godfrey was never charged or even accused of breaking the law. In fact, Philadelphia Police officers didn’t even file an incident report, according to department spokesman Cpl. Jim Pauley.

       Other airport and law enforcement officials have very little to say about Godfrey’s treatment.

       Zastera says he is "not allowed to comment" on what happened because it is a security matter. United Airlines spokesman Chris Bradwig says he is "unaware" of the Oct. 10 incident.

       "Even so, we don’t comment on security matters," he says.

       Will your book get you banned from a flight? Would that be worse than being forced to read the in-flight magazines? Get the rest of this story from City Paper.


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