OK, we all want to throw the book at people for being obnoxious on planes. But 20 years in prison might be a bit much.
First we have Carl Warren Persing, 40, of Lakewood, Calif., recently convicted of interfering with a flight crew. This is the passenger who was making out with his girlfriend and refused to stop when other passengers complained and a Southwest flight attendant asked them to cut it out. The flight attendant also testified that when he refused to serve the couple alcohol, Persing told him they would "have it out on the ground."
More serious is the case of David S. Howell, 34, of Eugene, Ore., who threatened to kill a United Airlines flight attendant, prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing in Montana. (The Billings Gazette had the story.) Howell said he had taken medication for his attention deficit disorder followed by Valium and vodka, and he doesn’t remember a thing. He pleaded guilty to the same charge: interfering with a flight crew.
That is quite literally a federal offense, with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. It’s been taken pretty seriously since the 2001 terrorist attacks, as it should be. But with all things in life, it’s best to apply a little perspective.
Sure, our society should take a tough stance against disruptive behavior in flight. Flight crews have to keep a sharp guard against terrorism, and that’s difficult in a disorderly environment. So passengers need to know that creating a disturbance on a flight is not just rude, it’s dangerous.
Still, it’s hard to imagine that either case would have been much more than a misdemeanor had it taken place on the ground. It seems to me that the punishment should be the same as it would on the ground, with the added penalty of a permanent ban on flying commercial aircraft.
Well, I suppose that if the offending passengers wanted the ban lifted, they could go (by ground transportation) to a convention of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, wait hand and foot on the conventioneers and then put their requests for flying privileges to a vote of the membership.
Seems fair to me.