A Savannah, Ga., federal judge has issued one of the toughest penalties ever in a case involving the increasing tendency of airline passengers to behave disruptively.
U.S. District Judge William Moore sentenced Gary Lee Lougee of Pooler, Ga., to 51 months in jail last week for assaulting a USAir flight attendant on a trip from Savannah to Charlotte, N.C, on July 6.
Lougee, 40, also will have to repay USAir $611.35 for the expense of turning the airplane around and returning to Savannah.
"This is a wake-up call," said Dan Drake, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Savannah. "If people want to continue to do this kind of thing on airplanes, they will be looking at fairly stiff sentences in the federal system."
Added Jane Goodman, spokeswoman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants: "This sentence, which may be the strictest I have seen, really shows that tolerance for this type of behavior is becoming slimmer and slimmer -- as it should."
Dennis Harris, a USAir pilot and union official, said that when Lougee boarded Flight 292 he had apparently been drinking but told gate agents he would not drink any more.
Within minutes, Lougee demanded bourbon and cola, assaulted a flight attendant who refused him, and fought with passengers and another flight attendant trying to restrain him, Harris said.
The captain quickly decided to return to Savannah. Lougee was arrested, pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with flight crew members and was sentenced Dec. 17.
No one has counted disruptive behavior incidents throughout the airline industry. But American Airlines, one of the nation's Big Three carriers, has done the most complete review.
American says the number of incidents of verbal or physical abuse against its crew members nearly tripled from 1994 to 1996, to 882. From 1994 to 1995, the number of incidents of physical abuse quadrupled to 140. Last month, prompted by American and employee groups, the Federal Aviation Administration issued guidelines for airlines to follow in an effort to manage and reduce the incidents that do occur.
The FBI says the number of passengers charged with interfering with flight crews dropped from 152 in 1993 to 135 in 1995. But unions say reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg, and anecdotal evidence has mounted.
American spokesman Tim Smith said his airline is encouraging its crews to report incidents they might not have mentioned in the past and will support them in any legal proceedings.
"You come to the realization that there are some people, a very small number, that you don't want on your airplanes," he said.
Pub Date: 12/26/96