- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007


In the past nine months, passengers have been kicked off airplanes or detained at airports for uncontrolled coughing, joking about hijacking, breast-feeding a baby, kissing and other amorous activities, cursing at flight attendants who denied them alcohol, failing to get a screaming child buckled in for takeoff, and carrying a sippy cup of water.

Whether you side with the passengers or the workers who disciplined them, one thing is for sure. It doesn’t take much in the post-September 11 era to get in trouble on airplanes or in airports for behavior that might not be a big deal at a ballpark, beach or mall.

Here are some tips for getting to your destination this summer without getting scolded, grilled, detained or escorted off a plane.

{bullet} Be discreet. “The No. 1 tip is the ‘I wasn’t raised in a barn’ tip. Whatever you wouldn’t do in a church, don’t do on a plane,” says Peter Shankman, founder of AirTroductions.com, a social-networking site for air travelers. “If there has ever been a time in your life [when] you don’t want to attract more attention to yourself, it’s on a plane.”

Federal rules say that “no one may interfere, intimidate or threaten a crew member,” says Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Alison Duquette. “It’s completely up to the pilot in command if they want to not allow someone to take a flight.”

That means air crews have a lot of discretion in deciding what constitutes disruptive behavior.

“From my experience, if a passenger’s behavior is offensive to other passengers onboard, then the airline reserves the right to deny boarding or to ask for the passenger to be removed,” says David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association.

Cursing at a crew member or behaving drunkenly can lead to hassles, but so can a lot of other things. In May, a California man was convicted of interfering with flight attendants and crew members in a case that prosecutors said began when he became too affectionate with his girlfriend on a flight to North Carolina.

The case last fall of a woman ordered off a flight in Vermont while breast-feeding her baby resulted in protests at airports around the country in support of nursing mothers. The airline involved later said its policy does permit breast-feeding on planes. Mr. Castelveter said there is no industrywide policy on the issue.

{bullet} Prepare if you’re traveling with small children. Tell them what to expect onboard. Use the child’s car seat on the plane so the youngster is not upset by unfamiliar restraints. Bring snacks. “Bring along games and coloring or connect-the-dots books,” says Joyce Gioia, who writes the Herman Trend Alert, a business strategies newsletter. “My tactic was to pack a brand-new toy my child had never seen.”

In January, a family was kicked off a plane when their toddler threw a tantrum and couldn’t be strapped in for takeoff.

{bullet} Control symptoms for coughs, colds and other illnesses. Bring tissues; dispose of them in the airsickness bag. Bring a bottle of water for a dry throat.

“Keep your germs to yourself,” Miss Gioia says. “If you have any kind of an illness, cover your mouth when you cough and turn away to sneeze or blow your nose.”

It’s not just a matter of being polite. In March, a teenager on a class trip from Hawaii was escorted off a plane taking her home from New York after she had a coughing fit. In June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was called in to evaluate passengers flying into Miami with symptoms of gastrointestinal illness.

Mr. Castelveter says most carriers maintain links with ground-based medical consultants to help evaluate sick passengers. Flight attendants may ask if there is a doctor onboard, and the CDC may be called in as well.

{bullet} Don’t make jokes about terrorism. “Jokes and/or comments about threats to passengers or the aircraft will be taken seriously,” warns the Transportation Security Administration’s “Summer Travel Tips” brochure.

“It’s important that people not make those inappropriate remarks,” says TSA spokesman Christopher White. “Any behavior, actions or comments that could be construed as a threat to the aircraft or other passengers would merit some kind of security response.”

A woman was detained by authorities in Malaysia after the crew refused to let her children visit the cockpit during a flight and she jokingly said, “My children cannot hijack the plane, but I can.”

{bullet} Know the rules and plan ahead. Go to www.tsa.gov to find detailed information on what is and isn’t permitted in your carry-on.

“As I’m walking up to security, I do a kind of quick mental scan to make sure I’m in compliance,” Miss Gioia says. “Do I have on any jewelry I’m going to need to take off or barrettes in my hair that will make a system go off?”

“When you go through security, treat it like you’ve been pulled over for speeding,” advises Brett Snyder, who writes an online column about air travel at CrankyFlier.com. “Be polite, answer any reasonable questions, and just keep thinking about being done with it so you can move on with your life.”

If you inadvertently bring along a prohibited item, “you can leave the checkpoint area and dispose of it or put it in your checked baggage,” Mr. White says.

Politely acknowledging that you broke the rules by accident can help resolve things quickly. “Don’t believe it’s a matter of these people singling you out because there is something wrong with you,” says Jerry Chandler, travel news blogger for Cheapflights.com.

Mr. Chandler recalls accidentally leaving a Swiss Army knife in his backpack while traveling from Dallas to Birmingham, Ala. “What a boneheaded thing to do,” he says. “They took it over to the checkpoint mailer,” and it was sent back to him without a problem.

A woman was stopped at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on June 11 because her toddler’s sippy cup had water in it. She said she was detained improperly and accidentally spilled the water. In response, the TSA posted a video of the incident on its Web site that appears to show the woman turning the cup upside-down and shaking the contents onto the floor.

“The rules are the rules,” Mr. Shankman says. “They don’t make the rules. Screaming at the TSA agent and calling him an idiot is not going to help.”

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