Conference deals with rowdy airplane passengers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some think they are big shots. Some are afraid. Many are drunk. But aboard an airplane high in the sky, any of them can cause serious danger if they become unruly.
“Poor behavior should not be tolerated anywhere, but when it happens at 35,000 feet, the behavior jeopardizes the overall safety of that aircraft,” Kathy Lord-Jones of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said Wednesday.
She told a conference on unruly passengers about one man who tried to kill himself by opening a door in flight — a hazard to everyone aboard. Another man in her experience punched a flight attendant because there was no fruit on his meal tray.
American Airlines is now encouraging flight attendants to file criminal and civil charges against passengers who abuse them, she told the daylong meeting sponsored by the Air Line Pilots Association.
Leo Flammer of Austrian Airlines urged that security officers be carried aboard more commercial aircraft to deal with disruptive behavior, including the possibility of “cooling down” areas where the unruly could be separated from other passengers.
“It must be considered a taboo to go wild on an aircraft,” said Flammer, a pilot and security expert.
Flammer suggested that airlines keep records on passengers and penalize bad behavior by deducting frequent-flier miles, denying upgrades or even banning perpetrators from future flights.
“We have to educate the public to the seriousness of this offense,” said Randolph Babbitt, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, sponsoring the daylong conference.
“We have to let people know that violent, disruptive behavior on board aircraft isn’t going to be dismissed or taken lightly. Judges are going to hand down sentences that reflect the fact that you have endangered dozens, if not hundreds, of airline passengers,” he said.
Among recent examples:
ùGary Lee Lougee, 40, of Pooler, Ga., drew a four-year prison term for fighting with a flight attendant who refused him a drink. The flight had to return to Savannah, Ga.
ù Two Swedish passengers refused to stop smoking and became unruly on a nonsmoking flight to from Stockholm to Chicago. The crew handcuffed them, and the plane was diverted to Montreal, where they were arrested. The next day they were refused admission to the United States and returned to Sweden
ù A drunken passenger on London-Chicago flight, denied more alcohol, became disruptive. Arrested on arrival, he received probation and was banned from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it received 96 reports of passenger interference with crews in 1993, 194 reports in 1994 and 174 in 1995. But many cases are not reported but are handled by crews or police.
The agency issued guidelines in December encouraging flight crews to report incidents and urging airlines to adopt “zero tolerance” policies. It plans to expand its program to help airlines deal with airborne crimes.
“Other passengers are frightfully upset when sitting near someone who is acting out,” Jane Goodman of the Association of Flight Attendants said. “The anxiety level is so high because there is nowhere to go.”