When Mayberry takes to the skies

by Jim Longworth

Last week a California couple en route to Raleigh on Southwest Airlines was arrested under the Patriot Act and could face 20 years in prison each.

Did they have weapons?

Did they threaten to blow up the plane?

No, their crime was far more sinister. They were kissing.

To complicate matters, the male passenger was heavily medicated for a chronic condition, and he had rested his head in his girlfriend’s lap. An overzealous steward ordered the couple to cease whatever it was they were doing. A verbal exchange ensued, and the couple was later hauled off to jail for “interfering with a flight attendant.”

Certainly one can argue the appropriateness of public displays of affection, and certainly there have been cases where such PDAs have erupted into violence. Last December, for example, a British couple was having sex in an airplane bathroom, and when told to stop, they attacked the cabin crew. An English court fined the lovers $34,000. No argument from me on that verdict.

But the California man attacked no one, and now he and his girlfriend face prison time, all because of a Barney Fife flight attendant who now has extraordinary powers under the Patriot Act.

In fact, today’s cabin crews are assuming and usurping entirely too much power which, in many instances, infringes upon our basic freedoms of speech and assembly.

In the air they are policeman, judge and jury, and if you make them angry you can end up in sky cuffs. This is particularly disturbing because, whether on the ground or in the air, this is still America and we still have the right to free speech without fear of reprisal. We even have the right to be rude without fear of being handcuffed. Yet every day innocent people are arrested or detained for talking back to someone in authority.

Don’t get me wrong. If you have sex on a plane and cause a disruption, you should be fined. And if you touch or strike a cop or an airline attendant you should go to jail. But arguing or disagreeing with them, especially when you’re innocent, should not result in imprisonment.

Congress should look into abuses of power by in-flight Barneys, and order them to stick to taking drink orders. Ultimately, though, the president is to blame for this mess.

Bush’s Patriot Act is a dangerous joke, and it should be repealed. It is a diversion designed to keep us in line instead of questioning foreign policy.

But there is a bright side. We can take comfort in the fact that, although Bush can’t locate Osama bin Laden who kills people with planes, we are able to put a couple in jail for kissing on a plane.

You’re now free to roam around the country.

Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY48 (cable channel 15).