There was an extraordinary moment on a Swedish flight this week taking off from Frösön airport in northern Sweden. The government was deporting Ghader Ghalamere back to his native Iran. A man on the flight stood up to tell the passengers about the deportation and told them not to fasten their seat belts to stop the flight. The passengers did precisely that and the flight could not take off in an extraordinary act of peaceful protest.
The passengers admitted that they did not know the back story but they did not want to stand by quietly and allow a man to be deported to a nation known for torturing and killing dissidents.
What struck me most about this amazing scene is that in the United States, the police would likely have been called and every passenger hit with some draconian penalty like a bar on flying.
Congress wrote a vague provision that can allow the broadest possible application for charging passengers in the United States:
49 U.S. Code § 46504 – Interference with flight crew members and attendants
An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
You will note that it includes simply cases where a passenger “interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant.” The Justice Department has emphasized that “A violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46504 is a general intent crime; it does not require any specific intent to intimidate or to interfere with the flight crew member or attendant. See United States v. Grossman, 131 F.3d 1449, 1451-52 (11th Cir. 1997); United States v. Compton, 5 F.3d 358, 360 (9th Cir. 1993); United States v. Hicks, 980 F.2d 963 (5th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 941, 507 U.S. 998 (1993); United States v. Meeker, supra, 527 F.2d at 14.”
Source: Sveriges Radio