Dirk McQuigley of Daily Kos has an enraging editorial about the practice of flight crews punishing unruly passengers by having them put on terrorist watch-list. I had this happen to me once, on the way to my wedding in Toronto in October. My wife made to put the baby on the floor in front of our seat for a while so she could play, and a flight attendant told her it was absolute iron-clad British Airways policy that babies had to be in reach of the ceiling oxygen masks at all time. My wife pointed out that we'd let the baby play on the floor of many BA planes in the past 10 months, and it probably wasn't practical to expect the kid to go 10 hours without a little floor-time. The flight attendant was insistent, and my wife, in exasperation, said, "OK, but it's bullshit."
A minute later, the purser steamed around the bulkhead, in full dudgeon — "You've violated our zero-tolerance policy for 'abusive language' and I can have you arrested and taken off the plane when we land if you don't stop it." It went downhill from there, with him vowing to have our "BA flier records" changed to note that we were "abusive passengers" so that every flight we took from now on would involve increased scrutiny and strictness. Needless to say, when I called BA later, they apologized and swore that there was no such record, and needless to say, we weren't arrested when we landed.
So I'd assumed that he was just a little puffed-up martinet making idle threats, but it appears we got off lucky. According to this, plenty of passengers who disagreed with a flight crew are now classed as "terrorists" in international databases and subject to incredible hassle and are even at risk of being detained when they fly.
Not a bad business to be in: for most companies, all they can do when a customer has an argument with a rep is ask them to leave. Airlines get to punish their customers by having them arrested as terrorists. I guess we're lucky the record industry doesn't have the same ability.
Take the case of Tamera Jo Freeman. Traveling from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City in 2007. Freeman gave each of her children three whacks on the backside when they spilled her airplane Bloody Mary in her lap.
A flight attendant confronted Freeman, who responded by hurling a few profanities and throwing what remained of a can of tomato juice on the floor.
The incident aboard the Frontier flight ultimately led to Freeman's arrest and conviction for a federal felony defined as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act, the controversial federal law enacted after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
"I had no idea I was breaking the law," said Freeman, 40, who spent three months in jail before pleading guilty.
Worse than that, Freeman lost custody of her children as a result of the conviction. Moreover, she was barred from flying and her probation required her to stay within Oklahoma which effectively prevented her from traveling to Hawaii for a custody hearing.
The severity of the incident was disputed by a witness that happened to also be a defense attorney. The attorney said that initially there was a loud exchange but Freeman calmed down BEFORE she became unruly. The attorney said that he sympathized with Freeman.