Everyone knows you can't say "bomb" on a plane, but what if you're just kidding? In these days of heightened air security, a misunderstanding, offhand remark or even a joke may lead to a grounded plane, criminal charges and thousands dollars spent on security measures.
Wednesday's emergency landing of the flight from Washington, D.C., to Denver after a Qatari diplomat Wednesday night allegedly made a sarcastic remark about setting fire to his shoes while smoking the plane's bathroom was just the latest in a series of recent bad passenger decisions that led to security scares and emergency landings.
Nobody was harmed and no explosives were found on the United Airlines flight, but the military scrambled two F-16 fighter jets as a security measure to escort the flight in for landing, costing taxpayers an estimated $7,500 per hour in fuel and maintenance expenses for each plane.
Since a foiled Christmas Day plot to blow up a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam, passengers, airlines and the government have been on heightened alert.
While in the past, people saying stupid things on planes or acting irrationally might have received a warning, today they're likely to get tackled by an air marshal or other passengers.
In the first three months of this year, there have been a whopping 35 flight diversions in the United States due to security concerns, more than double the 17 incidents during the same period last year, according to Transportation Security Administration data.
In early January an Orlando-bound Northwest Airlines flight was diverted to Nashville, Tenn., after a suspicious item was discovered aboard the plane. The item: a Christmas ornament.
And later that month a flight attendant on a US Airways Express flight out of New York thought an observant Jew who was wrapping religious items to his wrist and head was playing with ominous cables or wires.
In January, a man on a flight from Oregon to Hawaii became upset after he was told he could not store his bag under his seat. He then allegedly handed a comment card to a flight attendan that read: "I hope we don't crash and burn or worse yet, landing in the ocean, living through it, only to be eaten by sharks or worse yet, end up on someplace like Gilligan's island..." The plane turned around and headed back to Portland's airport under the escort of military F-15s.
Other incidents might not have been quite as innocent, but they also weren't acts of terrorism.
On a recent Air Tran flight from Atlanta to San Francisco a man had five airline-sized bottles of wine and then needed to use the bathroom. But just for a bit of extra comfort, he decided to take off his shoes and socks and place them outside the door. Not the brightest idea. But then, he opened the door, took off his shirt and was shaving. Flight attendants tried to get him to sit down, he allegedly refused and that led to a flight diversion and his arrest.
On Jan. 23, a 33-year-old New York man allegedly tried to open a plane door in the middle of the flight from Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas. The man said he thought he was on the wrong airplane and that it was on the ground when he tried to open the door. Investigators said he'd had several drinks.