Feinstein Should Learn Her Limit

Debra J. Saunders
Posted: Jul 19, 2001 12:00 AM
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wants to butt into your life again. Last week, she sent a letter to the CEOs of seven major airlines, warning that if they don't implement rules that limit passengers to two drinks on domestic flights, "I am prepared to proceed with legislation." Feinstein, you see, isn't aware that when people say, "There ought to be a law ..." it's just an expression. Why has the good senator decided that she can tell you how much you can drink on a plane? "In view of the 5,000 'air rage' incidents each year," she wrote, "I believe it is time for the airline industry to set standards voluntarily, or else Congress may step in." Was there a study definitively linking alcohol to air rage that prompted Feinstein to threaten to slap the airlines with the heavy hand of federal law? No. A spokesman explained, "We have anecdotal evidence." How special. Feinstein apparently doesn't need facts or research to propose laws that limit other people's freedom. She's heard anecdotes. For those of you who are interested in facts, here are a few: The Air Transport Association, the lobbyist group for the major carriers, says that there were 610 million domestic passengers last year. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 314 of these passengers were cited for unruly conduct. This year, perhaps because of increased attention to the issue, there have been fewer citations -- 100 as of June 15. The FAA doesn't know how many were alcohol-related. As Michael Wascom of the Air Transport Association noted, "We don't think that the hundreds of millions of law-abiding, cooperative passengers should be unilaterally penalized for the disruptive actions of a few." What about Feinstein's claim that there are 5,000 "air rage" incidents annually? It's more factoid than fact. The number comes from the Air Transport Association, and it includes rude, disruptive behavior -- a loudmouth grousing about not making it into first class for example -- that does not result in legal action. Wascom said the ATA used a ballpark figure -- between 3,000 and 4,000 air-rage incidents -- that came from feedback from carriers. (In other words, there is no hard data.) In other stories, advocates have racheted the number up to 4,000 to 5,000. Feinstein, her office confirmed, then took 4,000 to 5,000 to mean: 5,000. Call it inflated numbers for inflated lawmaking. Even the Association of Flight Attendants -- which wants tighter rules on drinking and more training -- hasn't signed off on the idea. Said spokesperson Dawn Deeks, "At this point, we'd have to wait and see what the legislation actually asks for." It's hard to figure how flight attendants are supposed to keep track of who gets two drinks on a big flight. And: "We have to examine whether passengers drink more before they get on the flight." I should think that flight attendants would appreciate having the discretion to dispense a third drink to a nervous flier -- especially when rules forbid them to serve drunken passengers and penalties for unruly plane behavior are steep. Which leaves us with the question about what to do about politicians who are drunk with power? Hmmmm. Maybe a limit to two laws and two heavy-handed threats per year. Then maybe Feinstein would insist on hard facts before proposing to infringe on other people's rights.