“Why do they think a kid is a terrorist?” Mikey’s mother, Najlah Feanny Hicks, wondered in an interview with The New York Times.
While suspected underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab breezed through security without incident on Christmas Day, Mikey, a bespectacled boy from Clifton, N.J., finds himself frisked each time he tries to board a plane — simply because he shares the name of a suspected terrorist or criminal.
“A terrorist can blow his underwear up and they don’t catch him,” Hicks said. “But my 8-year-old can’t walk through security without being frisked.”
Mikey received his first pat-down at age 2. Not surprisingly, he cried.
The boy began raising flags among security personnel as a baby, shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when an airline official told his mother that her son’s name was on “the list,” which Hicks soon found out is the TSA’s “selectee” terror watch list of 13,500 suspicious names, including the name Michael Hicks.
Another young boy, now 8-year-old Charlie Jacoby, the son of a Washington news editor, Mary Jacoby, was repeatedly detained at customs because of his place on a watch list.
A TSA spokesman would not address Mikey’s case specifically but said “there are no children on the no-fly or selectee lists.”
Of course, Mikey himself was not placed on the list, but his name was. His plight is shared by roughly 80,000 other air travelers who have been subject to beefed-up security — and undue hassle — because they found themselves unnecessarily placed on a terror watch list.
The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., was held up by airport security five times in 2004 because his name resembled the alias of a possible terrorist. Unlike Mikey, Kennedy’s name happened to pop up on the no-joke “no-fly list,” a set of 2,500 individuals banned from air travel, period. A frequent-flying Canadian named Mario Labbe even legally changed his name — to Francois Mario Labbe — to liberate himself from constant confusion with another, potentially more sketchy, Mario Labbe.
No innocent air traveler wants to be on the selectee or any other watch list — especially an 8-year-old Cub Scout. As a result, the TSA says its name game is about to change. While it currently checks only passengers’ names with those on the watch lists, it plans to start cross-checking birthdates and genders as well.
And for Mikey’s troubles, perhaps some complimentary peanuts and a visit from the pilot might patch things up.