December 5, 2023

On the Road: As Summer Approaches, Odd Behavior Onboard

Well, I thought, nothing new here. As most of us frequent travelers know, the truly disturbed and the questionably functional are just as free to fly as anyone else, if they aren’t on a terrorist watch list and don’t try to bring shotguns or other prohibited items through airport security. It’s a free country, after all.

Still, it does seem from the headlines that there has been an unusual amount of weirdness in air travel lately. We can probably overlook a passenger stripping naked and running down the aisle babbling drunkenly. But this rushing of airliner doors does command serious attention. In the last two weeks, there have been at least three well-publicized incidents of passengers being wrestled to the deck by the crew and other passengers after unsuccessful attempts to force open the door of the cockpit or cabin.

Cockpit doors, of course, have been fortified against intruders since shortly after the 9/11 hijackings. Cabin doors can’t be opened in flight no matter how motivated the would-be departing passenger.

Last week, I was especially taken with one of those cases. On May 8, Reynel C. Alcaide of Illinois shoved aside a flight attendant and rushed the cabin door on a Continental Airlines 737. He was subdued by the crew and passengers. The authorities said Mr. Alcaide was screaming that he needed to get off the plane, which was in flight between Houston and Chicago. He was arrested on federal charges, including interfering with a flight crew, in St. Louis, where the plane had made an emergency landing. Mr. Alcaide has no known connection to Al Qaeda beyond the similar sounding name.

I mentioned that incident last week to Stuart Slotnick, a New York criminal defense lawyer who has handled some in-flight arrest cases.

“Wait a minute, what did you say this guy’s name was?” Mr. Slotnick asked.


“Pronounced like that?”

“I think so,” I said.

“That alone is truly crazy,” Mr. Slotnick marveled.

The current high anxiety in air travel is not just confined to the airplane, incidentally. Consider, if you will, the Texas House of Representatives, which last week approved legislation that would make it a criminal offense for a Transportation Security Administration screener to conduct a body pat-down at security that is deemed “indecent.”

The T.S.A., which screens an average of more than 1.5 million passengers each day, pointed out that only about 3 percent of passengers ever receive any kind of pat-down, which it calls a “highly effective tool” to keep weapons and other dangerous items off airplanes. And pat-down complaints to the agency are minimal, the agency said. “Between November 2010 and March 2011, T.S.A. screened nearly 252 million people. In that same time period, we received 898 complaints from individuals who have experienced or witnessed a pat-down. That’s roughly 0.0004 percent,” the agency said.

Still, it seems to me that the agency is perhaps overreaching just a bit through its self-defense by its chatty online ombudsman — who goes by the name Blogger Bob — who states the following on the agency’s Web site:

“What’s our take on the Texas House of Representatives voting to ban the current T.S.A. pat-down? Well, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) prevents states from regulating the federal government.”

Whoa, Blogger Bob, I thought. Do we really need to invoke the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, in response to the lower house of the Texas Legislature?

As the business travel grind slows with the approach of the summer, I say let’s relax, pull our eyeshades down, listen to music, and hope that the high anxiety can be taken down a notch or two before we head for the beach or the mountains. This applies to flight crews, too. While flight attendants put up with a lot, I’ve also been hearing from more passengers than usual complaining of rudeness on flights.

“I mean, trying to open up the door of an airplane in flight is very different from a passenger being arrested for telling off a flight attendant after being mistreated,” Mr. Slotnick said.

“On the other hand, being a flight attendant today can be a terrible job, like being a waiter in a bad restaurant, but you can’t go anywhere, you can’t hide, and you have 150 people asking you to do things for them nonstop,” he said. “And you never know if you’re going to have a job in six months.”

Meanwhile, the skies are likely to become even more crowded as business travel continues to rebound strongly, domestically and internationally. A  new survey of 665 senior finance executives at global companies found that  41 percent plan to spend more on business travel this year, up from 26 percent who said that a year ago. The survey, by the American Express/CFO Research Global Business and Spending Monitor, tracks with other industry studies showing a steady rise in  demand by business travelers  for the rest of this year.

 Even with fares rising and leisure  travel growth showing possible signs of slowing, the skies — and airplanes — could become more crowded after the summer lull. Annoyances undoubtedly will continue.

 Perspective, that’s the ticket.


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