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Airlines Use Terrorism Law to Punish Unruly Passengers

Posted Jan 23, 2009 2:33 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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At least 200 airline passengers have been convicted of a felony for violating a terrorism law since 2003, many of them for incidents that involved merely yelling, spouting profanities or acting in a drunken manner. Rarely did the cases involve a threat to hijack a plane or physical attacks on flight personnel.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the trend, profiling Tamera Jo Freeman, who was arrested under Patriot Act provisions governing flight safety that were enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks. She spent three months in jail before pleading guilty for a confrontation with a flight attendant. She also lost custody of her children.

According to the story, Freeman swatted her children on the thigh after they spilled a Bloody Mary into her lap. When a flight attendant confronted her, Freeman yelled profanities and threw tomato juice onto the floor.

She pleaded guilty under a law that defines disruptive behavior on an airline as a terrorist act and makes any attempt to interfere with a flight crew a federal felony, according to the Los Angeles Times story.

New York security consultant Charles Slepian criticized the expanded use of the law. "We have gone completely berserk on this issue," he told the newspaper. "These are not threats to national security or threats to aircraft, but we use that as an excuse."

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