Mind Your Manners Midair

ByABC News
November 21, 2006, 12:02 PM

Nov. 21, 2006 — -- Making out with your girlfriend, praying, breast-feeding your baby, making jokes.

What do they have in common? That kind of behavior could get you removed from an airplane, or even arrested, this holiday season.

In the wake of 9/11 and the new security regulations instituted since the foiled London terror plot this summer, many airlines have become increasingly vigilant -- perhaps even uptight -- about minor infractions. And many passengers realize they need to be on their best behavior when they take a flight.

The latest example of high-altitude hijinks was the arrest of a couple for violating the Patriot Act by snuggling and kissing inappropriately. On a recent Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles, Carl Persing and Dawn Sewell, an unmarried couple, were "making other passengers uncomfortable" with his face pressed against her vaginal area, according to an FBI indictment. When a flight attendant gave them a second warning, Persing snapped back in anger and the couple, both in their early 40s, were arrested when the plane reached its destination in Raleigh, N.C.

Charged with obstructing a flight attendant and with criminal association, Persing and Sewell have been placed under legal surveillance until their trial in February, at which time they could be sent to jail for up to 20 years. The couple's lawyer claims that Persing had his head in Sewell's lap because he wasn't feeling well and that the flight attendant had humiliated and harassed them.

"As a potential act of terrorism, it's being a little oversensitive," says Charles Slepian, an aviation security expert at the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center. "After all, the mile-high club has been around for at least 50 years. But flight crews are sensitive that some passengers get upset when others get cozy, and that could erupt into an altercation."

Although it usually covers serious criminal activity, the Patriot Act can apply to minor infractions on flights. "You can't make any threatening gesture to an attendant, because it does violate the Patriot Act," explains Slepian. "They don't want you getting out of your seat except to go the lavatory. The whole idea is to keep control. If you react to the attendant, you're going to get locked up."