How the U.S. put an end to plane hijacking and why gun reform advocates should take note.
Image by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

As thousands across the nation prepare to take to the streets on March 24, 2018, for The March for Our Lives, we're taking a look at some of the root causes, long-lasting effects, and approaches to solving the gun violence epidemic in America. We'll have a new installment every day this week.

At one point in this country, a plane was hijacked at the rate of once a week.

Between 1968 and 1972, (a period that writer Brandon I. Koerner dubbed the "golden age of hijacking"), more than 130 airplanes were hijacked. The practice was so prevalent, sometimes there would be more than one incident a day.


Not unlike our current mass shooting epidemic, skyjacking — as it came to be known — was a problem so complex and frequent that the American government, passengers, and even airlines themselves began to think of it as just a standard risk of air travel. Yet between the mid-1970s and 9/11 (and again after 9/11), skyjacking virtually ceased to exist.

What changed? And how did it get so bad in the first place? Through eight jaw-dropping facts, I'll walk you through some of Koerner's account of this incredible time in American history that wasn't very long ago — and what gun violence prevention advocates can learn from it.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

1. Plane hijacking wasn't a routine occurrence in the U.S. until 1961, when all of a sudden, people wanted a quick escape to Cuba.

The hijackings began not long after the end of the Cuban revolution. U.S. and Cuban relations weren't strong at the time. Some saw hijacking as the only way to return to their home country or as a one-way ticket to what they perceived as a kind of "socialist Club Med."

Hijackers would board flights and demand to be taken to Havana. At the time, the airlines and the FAA told pilots and crew not to argue or take any heroic action, but instead to deliver on the hijackers' demands and take them where they asked.

Trips to Cuba became so frequent that pilots were given Spanish phrase cards to help communicate with the Spanish-speaking hijackers.

The Paseo de Marti (formerly Prado Boulevard) in Havana, circa 1960. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images.

2. Hijacking was so common, it became a major theme on TV shows and movies.

Monty Python performed a sketch about it, and planes became a high-stakes setting for many a TV drama and film. Time magazine even wrote a piece in their travel section on what to do if your plane is hijacked. Keep that one in your carry-on.

3. What did Castro think about all these unsolicited arrivals? He wasn't too pleased.

Castro didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for the giant planes and wannabe heroes landing in his country. Koerner, author of "The Skies Belong to Us," shared the two most common fates of hijackers in an interview with CNN:

"One, you would be put in a South Havana dormitory called Hijacker House, where you were given about 16 square feet of living space with a cot, and they give you 40 pesos a month, (and) you kind of have to fend for yourself. It was a really awful life.

And if the government really didn't like you — for example, if you were violent on board the plane or if you robbed any of the passengers — they would actually send you to these gulags in the south of the country where you would harvest sugar cane. And the conditions there were just absolutely nightmarish."

4. In 1969, one hijacker realized there were places to go other than Cuba, opening up a literal world of trouble.

On the run from a military court martial, Raffaele Minichiello, an Italian immigrant and U.S. Marine, decided to flee to his home country rather than stand trial. He hijacked a plane heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco, let passengers out in Denver, then asked to fly to New York. When they got to the Big Apple, Minichiello (in so many words) said "Gotcha! I actually want to go to Rome." FBI agents tried to stop him in New York, but Minichiello fired a round into the fuselage and they backed off. After stopping again in Maine and Ireland, Minichiello made it to Rome.

His "successful" journey inspired other hijackers to think big, requesting rides to North Korea and Algeria. Some began asking for money and gold bars.

Minichiello was arrested in Rome, on Nov. 1, 1969. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

5. While the hijackings were a scary, dangerous nuisance, the FAA used their political weight to prevent any legislation from passing.  

Airlines were booming high-tech businesses at the time. The FAA did everything they could to keep them happy. Airport security was nonexistent because airlines thought no one would want to deal with the inconvenience. They pushed back against any legislation calling for metal detectors or physical searches.

Speaking on behalf of the FAA at a congressional hearing in 1968, staffer Irving Ripp said, "It's an impossible problem short of searching every passenger. If you've got a man aboard that wants to go to Havana, and he has got a gun, that's all he needs."

A view of the Trans World Airlines Terminal in New York, circa 1962. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

6. The FAA did manage to establish a task force to come up with solutions. They solicited ideas from the public and they were, well, interesting.

Ideas from concerned citizens included forcing everyone on the plane to wear boxing gloves, building a fake Havana airport in Miami so planes could land there and hijackers could be arrested by American agents, installing trap doors near the cockpit, and even playing the Cuban national anthem before flights to see if anyone knew the words.

Oh, and the whole "build a fake airport" idea was actually seriously considered at one point. (Too expensive.)

7. A psychologist and hijacking task force member dug into the backgrounds of the hijackers to help him screen potential threats.

His name was John Dailey, and he examined everything from hijackers' departure cities to clothing and methods of payment. Eventually he created a checklist to help weed out potential threats from a sea of passengers and discreetly pull aside a few for additional screening.  

The FAA allowed Dailey to test his method, and it was successful. However, it relied heavily on gate agents and not trained security personnel.

The American Boeing 707 circa 1958. Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images.

8. What finally made the FAA change their tune? The threat of mass casualties — and legal issues.

On Nov. 10, 1972, three hijackers threatened to crash Southern Airways Flight 49 into a nuclear research reactor near Knoxville, Tennessee, if they didn't receive $2 million. The airline came up with the money, but the flight continued (with a few stops and delays) all the way to Havana, where the hijackers were put in jail.

Realizing the planes could be used as weapons, the threat of loss of life onboard and mass casualties on the ground was enough to move the FAA and the government to act.

Starting Jan. 5, 1973, the FAA put mandatory screenings in place for all airplane passengers. And despite the FAA's concerns, most people didn't seem to mind.

Security guards inspect passengers at a security checkpoint in London, 1975. Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Our country transitioning from hundreds of hijackings to hardly any was no accident. It's a reminder of what can happen when the government takes control back from big business and lobbying organizations.

Yes, hijackings still occurred after 1973, but they were significantly less frequent and often ended without incident.

Like Southern Airways Flight 49, the attacks on September 11 forced swift, comprehensive security changes to prevent similar attacks. While the changes have been frustrating or cumbersome at times, they've been successful.

Gun violence is an issue the gun lobby believes is impossible to solve. The airlines thought screening would ruin their business, so they fought it tooth and nail while passengers were actually terrorized. The NRA and the politicians they support seem to think mass shootings are the price we pay to maintain our Second Amendment rights. But there has to be a better way — particularly one that doesn't center on selling more guns.

If we can put an abrupt end to the "golden age of hijacking," surely we can work together to put an end to this devastating era of widespread gun violence. Don't believe anyone who says commonsense policy changes won't work. They already have.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

For more of our look at America's gun violence epidemic, check out other stories in this series:

And see our coverage of to-the-heart speeches and outstanding protest signs from the March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

The battle between millennials and older generations isn't exactly a generational war—it's more a case of mistaken generational identity. A decade ago, whining about millennials being young adults unprepared to make their way in the world at least made sense mathematically. But when people bag on millennials now they end up looking rather foolish.

A marketing researcher with a doctorate in social psychology wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune titled "Post-pandemic, some millennials finally decide to start #adulting." And when the Tribune shared it to Twitter, their since-deleted tweet read, "Writer Jennifer Rosner predicts COVID-10 lockdowns will force easy-breezy millennials to grow up."

Hoo boy.

Interestingly, the writer of the op-ed is a millennial herself, but she repeats generalizations about her entire generation that seem like they mainly apply to her own social circle. Read it yourself to decide, but regardless, the tweet of the op-ed itself set off a firestorm of responses from millennials who are tired of being painted as irresponsible young people who don't know how to "adult" instead of what they actually are.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

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Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.