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 usually covers serious criminal activity, the Patriot Act can apply to minor infractions on flights.
“You can’t make any threatening gesture to an attendant because it does violate the Patriot Act,” explained [Charles] Slepian [an aviation security expert at the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center]. “They don’t want you getting out of your seat except to go the lavatory. The whole idea is to keep control. If you react to the attendant, you’re going to get locked up.”
Flight attendants, with their increased power, definitely seem to be getting more sensitive to all types of behavior. 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.
Now, there may well have been aggravating circumstances in all those cases. The convicted plane cuddler, for example, was belligerent with the stewardess because he thought she was rude to him.
Still, that an anti-terrorism law is making a federal crime out of being rude to waitresses is patently absurd. And, please, the idea that stewardesses are anything but waitresses 99.999% of the time is a joke. They are not “flight crew” just because they make insipid announcements that nobody actually listens to. (Indeed, on JetBlue, celebrity guests give those safety instructions via videotape.)
Yes, they’re trained to help the passengers to safety in an emergency. When they’re actually acting in that capacity, they should be treated as authority figures. Otherwise, they’re just people who hand out snacks. Let’s quit pretending otherwise.
Being rude to waitresses is boorish. It should not, however, be a crime. Yes, their jobs are hard enough without people being jerks to them. Then again, passengers are paying customers and some of them have bad days. And being crammed into too-small seats and being treated like cattle doesn’t exactly bring out the best in people.
Sean Hackbarth thinks the solution is for better judgment on the part of both the airlines and prosecutors.
The smart airlines better train their attendants to make common sense the rule. All passengers know the story of United 93. U.S. hijackings are a thing of the past. Passengers will fight back. Along with that prosecutors need to use their brains instead of wasting time prosecuting members of the Mile High Club.
Certainly true. Then again, the fact that the law currently makes stewardesses think they’re Authority Figures Who Must Be Obeyed* and gives prosecutors the option to bring trivial cases to court is problematic.
Steven Taylor believes “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 right. It’s high past time to reverse that.
*I’m also less than thrilled with the general trend of police officers who seem to think they are entitled to subservience from the public they’re hired to serve. But that’s a subject for another day.