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Remembering Pan Am Flight 103

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Pan Am LogoLast weekend was the 20th anniversary of the tragic explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which happened on December 21, 1988.

It was a day of infamy in the aviation business, and it was wake-up call for the aviation industry in terms of terrorism.

I covered that story and it still goes on, 20 years later.

If you think the Libyans convicted were the only culprits, you are sadly mistaken.

There are at least 23 other fugitives still being sought. At that time, it was the largest murder investigation in the history of the world. It went to more than 45 countries and a number of countries were actually involved; maybe not directly, but they were involved.

The story of how they pieced together little bits of wreckage to figure out the chain of how it happened, and where it happened, and who did it, is one of the most fascinating detective stories I have ever been involved with. And 20 year later, the real question is airline security any better?

Imagine the lone constable in Lockerbie, Scotland, who had moved there six months earlier to be in his last position before retirement. He picked a place with the smallest police force in the United Kingdom (it only had 13 officers), and he picked it because nothing ever happened there.

At 6:40 p.m. of December 21, 1988, when the left wing of that 747 slammed into the town and killed another 11 people, his life changed for forever.

sherlock holmesHe went from commanding the smallest police force in the UK to the largest police force ever assembled in the history of the world to investigate a mass murder. It’s an amazing story that I hope you get a chance to read one day because there are lessons for us all.

One of the lessons for us all is what happened five or six days before that terrible bombing. The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland had received credible information that a U.S.-flagged airliner was going to be blown up in the sky coming from Frankfurt or London in the next couple of days.

And they believed that information to be true—but there was just one small problem: Who did they share that information with? They only shared it with other U.S. State Department personnel; private American citizens were not told. And all 159 U.S. citizens on that plane that day never had a chance.

Of course, since that happened and the U.S. State Department got caught with its pants down, they now issue advisories if an American tears his fingernail in Peru. They’ve gone over the edge in covering their you-know-what. And that’s why I say, a State Department advisory is only an advisory. Please remember that.

But if you go to the British or Australia foreign offices, they also issue advisories out to their citizens that, in many cases, are more comprehensive than the advisories our own government gives us. But the caveat is, they’re advisories. They’re not telling you not to go; they’re telling you if you’re going to go, be aware of something.

And also on December 21, there was a special ceremony in Mumbai, India. Not even a month after the terrible events at the Taj Hotel, Oberoi and other points in the city, they re-opened up Taj Hotel. There’s a lot to think about and a lot to remember.

As they say, if you cannot remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it.

Now that’s the bad news, but it’s important news to hold onto. The good news is there continues to be a silver lining in the travel industry because of the economic meltdown. There are deals everywhere. I went online and found seven-day cruises to the Caribbean with cabins going for $199. That works out to about $25 a night, including your meals! Here’s my advice: lease out your apartment, rent your house and move onto the cruise ship. You can’t lose.

I saw another coach fare on American Airlines, from New York to Los Angeles—and that’s their premium transcontinental flight which normally goes for $700-$800—selling one-way tickets for $149. American doesn’t usually even sell one-way tickets!

For all those airlines who were trying to implement that dreaded Saturday-night stay requirement, as long as there are one-way tickets available out there, they’re never going to get me to stay Saturday night.

This is how you beat the airlines at their own game, by playing their own game. Find the airlines selling one-way tickets, and you don’t have to plan to stay through Saturday night to get a good deal.

By Peter Greenberg, from Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.

Read more from Peter’s blog, the Travel Detective Blog.

Learn more about Travel Safety & Security.