JurisdictionUnited States
Publication year2021

§ 2A.02 Passenger Safety and Accessibility

[1] The September 11, 2001, Disaster

On September 11, 2001, four regularly scheduled domestic commercial aircraft were hijacked by terrorists. Two of the aircraft were flown into both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in their collapse. A third hijacked aircraft was flown into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth aircraft crashed into a field near Pittsburgh121 The total number of dead exceeded 3,000. The ease with which the hijackers boarded the aircraft and seized control with knives and box cutters highlighted just how vulnerable our airports and commercial aircraft are to terrorist acts. This horrific disaster generated significant changes in passenger security at airports and on aircraft122 and on other carriers such as cruise ships, railroads and buses123 and at hotels, resorts, theme parks and casinos124 and increased awareness of security considerations by travel sellers,125 increased passenger restrictions,126 and downright denial of danger,127 delays,128 racial profiling and discrimination against Arab Americans and others,129 violation of passenger privacy rights130 and conflicts over privacy issues both domestically131 and with foreign countries.132

[2] Airport and Passenger Safety

Since the September 11, 2001, disaster and subsequent terrorist events involving domestic and international air transportation, there have been ongoing efforts to improve security at airports and on aircraft133 as well at hotels and resorts134 and on cruise ships, railroads and buses.135 In addition, the European Union publishes an airline "blacklist."136 "The European Union on Tuesday banned all airlines from the Philippines and Sudan from flying into the region's airports, citing 'serious safety deficiencies' found by the United Nations and U.S. aviation authorities. The European Commission, which manages the airline 'blacklist' acknowledged recent efforts by Philippine regulators and by two carriers . . . to improve safety standards. But the commission said it would forbid those airlines and 45 others from flying into the 27-country bloc as a precaution until its remaining concerns could be addressed. It added that Brussels was prepared to send a delegation of safety experts to visit the country."137 Consumers should carefully examine the track records of airlines, particularly, non-U.S. airlines before purchasing a ticket.138

[3] Unruly Passengers and Other Disruptive Behavior

The ongoing problem of unruly passengers, a problem that affects both domestic139 and international140 passengers and which predates the September 11, 2001, disaster, foretold of the vulnerability of commercial aircraft to terrorist attacks.141 In the U.S., the pilot of a commercial aircraft has the right to deny boarding to and/or remove disruptive passengers who may pose a threat to other passengers.142 Occasionally, airline employees and flight attendants may be responsible for assaults and mistreatment of passengers during domestic143 and international144 flights.

Unlike claims involving unruly passengers or flight attendants arising during domestic flights, similar claims arising during international air transportation are more problematical. Such claims may not be compensable under the Warsaw Convention because the incident was not an "accident,"145 did not involve "bodily injury,"146 did not occur during embarkation or disembarkation147 or involved claims preempted by the Warsaw Convention such as all common law claims148 and claims arising from the violation of state and federal discrimination statutes.149

[a] Pilot's Duty To Protect Passengers

The pilots of commercial aircraft have the right and responsibility to deny boarding to and/or remove disruptive passengers150 This is true even if the information upon which the pilots rely is less than accurate.151

[b] Rude Behavior by Passengers

One of the most infamous cases of unruly passengers was a "couple (that) was apparently in such a rush to join the mile high club that they couldn't even make it to the bathroom. According to witnesses on the flight, the duo performed multiple sex acts on each other in their seats in full view of the other passengers . . . As the plane took off, during beverage service and towards the landing. Two flight attendants reportedly told the couple to stop. In the cold morning after (X and Y) now face federal charges of lewd, indecent and obscene acts on an airplane."152 Another such unruly passenger case involved "A man on a[n] . . . Icelandair flight (who) was so drunk and belligerent . . . that he had to be restrained with duct tape . . . The airline accused the man of accosting and hitting people on the flight. Passengers say he even tried to choke the person next to him and screamed 'The plane is going to crash.' "153

[c] Snack Ser vice Issues

In one Korean Air incident, reported in Sang-Hun, "Korean Air Executive Resigns Post After Halting Flight Over Snack Service,"154 it was explained that "[c]riticism has come nonstop for Korean Air Lines since it was discovered that one of its executives had ordered a flight from New York to Incheon, South Korea, to return to the gate to kick the senior flight attendant off the plane in a tiff over how the executive was served the nuts . . . as it turned out: Cho Hyun-ah was not only in charge of in-flight service for Korean Air, but is also a daughter of the chairman of the family-run conglomerate that operates the airlines. Ms. Cho who resigned . . . after an outburst of another sort of rage on social media and traditional media became irate . . . after a flight attendant served nuts without first asking her, and in an unopened package instead of on a plate . . . Bloggers ridiculed Ms. Cho . . . for 'going nuts over nuts.'155

In another Korean Air incident, reported in Sang-Hun, "Korean Air Chairman Strips Daughter's Titles After Her 'Foolish' Behavior,"156 "the head steward on the flight spoke after days of silence, telling Korea's KBS-TV on Friday that Mr. Cho's daughter had forced him to kneel and apologize on the plane as punishment for the way one of his stewards had served the nuts to passengers in first class. The head steward was kicked off the aircraft when it returned to the gate. 'You can't imagine the humiliation I felt unless you experienced it yourself', the steward, Park Chang- jin, said, adding the Ms. Cho called him names, hit him several times with a folder of documents and threw it at the junior steward. Ms. Cho later denied hitting Mr. Park or forcing him to kneel." Thereafter, it was reported that "[t]he former Korean Air executive jailed for disrupting a flight in a rage over macadamia nuts walked free Friday when a South Korean appeals court overturned her conviction for violating aviation safety laws (for which) a lower district court . . . had jailed (her) for one year . . . 'The accused had no intention of hampering the safe operation of the plane', High Court judge Kim Sang-Hwan said, handing down a reduced sentence of 10 months . . . As the plane was taxing to the runway, Cho, sitting in first class, became enraged when a flight attendant served her some nuts in a bag, rather than on a plate. She lambasted the chief steward over the behavior of his cabin crew and then ordered the plane back to the gate so he could be ejected." 157

[d] Pets on the Plane: U.S. Final Rule

Over two million pets and other live animals are transported by air every year in the United States. The U.S. DOT

Final Rule on Reports by Air Carriers on Incidents Involving Animals During Air Transport, effective January 1, 2015, states: 158 "There are three categories for animals transported in scheduled passenger air transportation: 'unassigned in the cabin', 'accompanied baggage' and 'live cargo shipments.' Animals categorized as 'unassigned in the cabin' are usually small pets that remain with the owner in the cabin for the duration of the flight. Air carriers may allow a limited number of passengers per flight to transport their animals as 'unassigned in the cabin.' Pursuant to 14 CFR Part 382, service animals accompanying individuals with a disability are not included in this category. Animals categorized as 'accompanied baggage' are pets traveling with passengers on the flight that are checked as baggage, remain in the custody of the air carrier for the duration of the flight, and are transported in the cargo compartment. Animals categorized as 'live cargo shipments' are animals that are not associated with passengers on the flight and are transported in the cargo compartment. While 'accompanied baggage' and 'live cargo shipments' may or may not be in different areas of the cargo hold on an aircraft, the primary differences between these two categories are shipping procedures and price points."

[e] Disruptive "Support" Animals

Some pets brought on board a commercial aircraft may present a problem and be disruptive to other passengers. Animals such as a pet rat,159 or a pet cockatoo160 may be disruptive indeed.

Included in this special category of potentially disruptive "support animals" would be a "big brown pig" brought onto an aircraft by a passenger. As noted in one case,161 "when US Airways passenger Robert Phelps first saw the woman coming down the aisle of the plane, he thought she had a 'really big dog' or a stuffed animal thrown over her shoulder . . . As she got closer, there was no denying that the woman was carrying a big brown pig, perhaps between 70 and 80 pounds . . . 'Other than a Fellini movie, where would you see a person with a pig?'" The passenger was allowed to bring the pig on board as an 'emotional support animal' under (DOT) guidelines, a US Airways spokeswoman said. Apparently, it was not meant to be. Before the plane took off, the passenger and her pig were kicked off the plane for being 'disruptive.' In answering how disruptive, the fellow passengers told the Hartford Courant that "the big brown...

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