Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

Currently: 82° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Sun editorial:

Felonious flying

Terrorism law’s expansion goes too far in trying to control unruly airline passengers

During a flight to Denver on Frontier Airlines, Tamera Jo Freeman swatted her two children on the thighs after they quarreled over a window shade and then spilled a drink in her lap.

A flight attendant told her to stop and Freeman responded with a few profanities and threw a can of tomato juice on the floor. As a result, she was arrested and charged with a felony under a Patriot Act provision designed to combat terrorism.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that at least 200 people have been convicted under the provision, and in most of those cases, there was no evidence of any terrorist links or attacks on crew members. Instead, airlines have had the ability to use the law to constrain passengers’ behavior. Most of the cases have involved passengers who were intoxicated or raised their voices in arguments with flight attendants.

Nathan Sales, a George Mason University law professor, helped write the Patriot Act when he was at the Justice Department. He said the legal provision being used was to put terrorists in violation of the law before they could act.

“A woman spanking her child is not as great a threat to aviation as members of al-Qaida with box cutters,” he said. “That much is clear.”

But the way things have worked, it hasn’t been clear at all. For example, a California couple spent four days in jail after a flight attendant ordered them to stop engaging in what was perceived to be “overt sexual activity,” and the man snapped at the attendant. Federal prosecutors charged him with a felony of interfering with a flight crew, which comes with a potential 20-year prison sentence.

It also should be clear that unruly passengers should not be tolerated in the air, but this seems to be going way too far. A terrorism charge for a spanking? A felony for yelling? Federal regulators and Congress should restore common sense to the law.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

No trusted comments have been posted.