The Internet is abuzz with rumors that Edward Snowden is on board a Russian plane bound for Havana on Thursday, on the same flight that journalists jumped on two weeks ago in hopes of catching the accused spy on his way to tropical asylum in Cuba. The reason is simple enough: flight Aeroflot 150, nonstop from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport to the capital of the Communist-ruled island, is taking a route that avoids completely the airspace of the United States. That is not the route that the flight usually takes, which flies over the U.S. Midwest and South as the plane makes its way down from its northerly route over the Atlantic.
And that’s leading conspiracy theorists to speculate that the wily Russians are smuggling the NSA leaker right under the nose of Uncle Sam -- who may be able to snoop on email all over the known universe, but can’t send fighter jets to force down a foreign civilian plane in international airspace.
But that is wrong. Edward Snowden is not on flight SU150.
(By the way, that Aeroflot flight code is a fitting throwback to the Cold War era: SU stands for, you guessed it, Soviet Union. Back then, when the Soviets flew fuel-guzzling Soviet-made planes, getting to their Socialist brothers in Cuba involved technical stops in Ireland and Canada. These days, Aeroflot goes nonstop in brand new Airbus jets.)
The reason the flight is going over the ocean, not land, may simply be weather-related. A radar map at weather.com shows that the U.S. East coast is peppered with bad weather, and the flight crew may simply have chosen to fly a different route to avoid it.
And in any case, if Snowden were on board, we would have been told hours ago -- moments after the plane embarked its passengers on Thursday morning Moscow time.
Many of the Airbus A330s flown by the Russian carrier to Cuba have onboard wifi. We don’t know if the one flying the Havana route on Thursday -- which tracking site Flightradar24 tells us is the aircraft sporting the Bermudian registration (for tax purposes) VQ-BBE and named after Russian poet Iosif Brodsky -- is among those already fitted with the Internet. But we do know that every long-range Airbus in the Aeroflot fleet has satellite phones at each seat. If Snowden, one of the most recognizable people on the face of the Earth, had been on board, at least one of the 241 passengers the Airbus can carry would have called home to say “Darling, you’ll never guess who’s sitting on the plane with me!”
Also, SU150 has traversed all of Europe on its way to Cuba -- including France, one of the countries that had no qualms about denying their airspace to the presidential aircraft of a sovereign country, with the president on board, simply because it was suspected of carrying Snowden. It also flew over the length of Poland, a staunch, hawkish U.S. ally that would just love to simultaneously look good in Washington and thumb its nose at its arch-foes in Moscow by rejecting a Russian overflight. But that did not happen.
So, keep looking. The most wanted man in the world is not on Aeroflot 150. Just like he wasn’t before.