The Collective
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

I have noted before that I am concerned that measures ostensibly designed to “keep us safe” from terrorist will turn into opportunities for abuses of power. For example, I have wondered what bureaucrats might do with data collected on innocent citizens for anti-terrorist databases. Indeed, in general as governmental power is increased for whatever reason, so too is its opportunity for abuse.

Sean Hackbarth notes the following example of an inappropriate application of the USA Patriot Act (via ABC News): Making Out’s a No-No at 30,000 Feet:

A California man may pay with prison time for a public display of affection on a plane.

Carl Persing was convicted Thursday of interfering with flight attendants and crew members after he and his girlfriend, Dawn Sewell, were seen “embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable,” according to a criminal complaint.

According to assistant U.S. Attorney John Bowler, Persing will likely serve jail time for the federal felony conviction, the Associated Press reports. He was convicted after a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Va.


According to an FBI indictment, Persing’s face was pressed to Sewell’s vaginal area during the September Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Raleigh, N.C. When a flight attendant gave them a second warning, Persing reacted angrily and the couple, both in their early 40s, were arrested when the plane reached its destination.

At the time, the couple’s lawyer claimed that Persing had his head in Sewell’s lap because he wasn’t feeling well and that the flight attendant had humiliated and harassed them.

Despite one’s views about passengers who place their heads in the laps of their female companions, it is patently absurd that an anti-terrorism law would be used to put someone in jail (let alone have to incur the expense of a three-day trial) for so doing.

Not only is there the issue of punishment fitting the crime, there is the more significant issue of what happens when we empower petty bureaucrats in the name of safety (and in this case, the flight attendants are acting like petty bureaucrats–indeed, petty tyrants).

While we clearly don’t want people making the friendly skies too friendly, the punishment ought to fit the crime and ought to be based on laws designed to deal with the actual behavior in question. Whatever this behavior was, it clearly wasn’t terrorism.

Regardless of one’s views of the Patriot Act, it is clear that the law was not passed to stop men from getting too close to the nether regions of their flight companions. Indeed, does most of the following sound like anti-terrorism in action?

So, what else constitutes bad behavior? According to Banas, try to avoid the following when flying: making jokes about blowing up planes; getting drunk; bumping other passengers with big bags; taking up all the space in the overhead compartments. Banas advised that you should show respect other passengers by not cursing and shouting.

Ok, making jokes about bombs has long been bad form (and could have gotten one in trouble prior to 9/11), but not bumping passengers? one tries, but those plane aisles are a tad small. Using all the space in the overhead compartments? Are you kidding me? Avoiding flying drunk is always good advice, but has little to do with terrorism.

The article notes other abuses of the law that have nothing to do with stopping terrorism:

Emily Gillette claims that she was kicked off a plane last month for nursing her baby on a flight between Burlington, Vt., and New York City. A spokesman for Freedom Airlines, which was operating the Delta commuter flight, says that Gillette was ejected because she declined an attendant’s offer of a blanket.

One passenger on a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City was arrested for leaving his seat to go to the lavatory less than 30 minutes before landing (due to the incident, air marshals ordered all passengers to put their hands on their heads for the rest of the flight). And an Orthodox Jewish man was kicked off an Air Canada flight for praying, which attendants claim was making other passengers nervous.

Other passengers have been taken off flights for making jokes, such as asking attendants if they had “checked the crew for sobriety” and “where do you keep the bomb?” Some have been booted for taking onboard hand cream, matches and bottles of water, and for sniffing something in a bag.

And there doesn’t seem to be an age limit for the violators. In 2005, a United Airlines flight out of Chicago was delayed because a small boy said something inappropriate.

Depending on how the actual situation went down, it is possible that the actions were warranted, but the bottom line is that at the end of the day innocent citizens are being harassed because the Congress decided to deputize flight attendants.

Quite frankly, I have seen enough grumpy antisocial flight attendants that I really don’t like the idea that they have the power to charge me with a crime.

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Filed under: US Politics, War on Terror | |
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7 Responses to “Stopping Terrorism in the Skies (or Something Like That)”

  1. Sean Hackbarth Says:

    This is another example of why Congressmen and Senators should actually read the bills they vote on.

  2. Patriot Act Empower Flight Attendants » The American Mind Says:

    [...] UPDATE: Steven Taylor comments: Despite one’s views about passengers who place their heads in the laps of their female companions, it is patently absurd that an anti-terrorism law would be used to put someone in jail (let alone have to incur the expense of a three-day trial) for so doing. [...]

  3. Chris Lawrence Says:

    It probably doesn’t help matters that flight attendants at many airlines (but not Southwest) have been getting hit with repeated pay cuts and furloughs over the past 5 1/2 years. Disgruntled employees + the authority to take that disgruntlement out on people = bad hoodoo.

  4. Alan Kellogg Says:

    Stop flying. Take the train, take the bus, drive, walk if you have to, but stop flying. Do without that trip, stay at home for your vacation. Make the airlines hurt. Make the tourist industry hurt.

    Hell, flood the justice system and make prosecutors and judges so seek of penny-ante crap they’re about ready to scream. Force things to become so outrageous ordinary citizens are ready to riot. As long as people are willing to tolerate this nothing well get done about it. Nothing substantial. Make the whole thing impossible to tolerate, then we’ll see reform.

  5. Outside The Beltway | OTB Says:

    Waitresses as Air Marshals

    A man was convicted last week of the federal crime of “interfering with flight crew” after he and his girlfriend were seen “embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable.”
    Although it usua…

  6. LG Says:

    Would you rather be on a plane where you consider the flight crew to have the abuse of power, or be on a plane where terrorists have all the power? We should all be able to curtail our bad manners in order to maintain the organization that is necessary to keep us safe throughout our friendly skies.

  7. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    That is a false dichotomy. If the only way to have terrorist-free skies is to deputize flight attendances, that’s one thing. However, this is not the case.

    Indeed, if I may say, it is thinking like that your exhibit that is part of the problem: the assumption that policies proffered in the name of safety always equate to safety and therefore we all need to just accept it, else we risk terrorism. The point of the matter is that sometimes (frequently, in fact) policies that allegedly make us safer do no such thing and yet most of it accept the policies because we hope that they work.

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