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Smokers Rebel in the Sky, Grapple With Attendants : 11 Puffers Light Up to Protest Ban

December 31, 1987|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

A scuffle erupted between some irate passengers and flight attendants on a transcontinental flight to Los Angeles when the pilot banned smoking, the passengers lit up anyway and the attendants asked them to douse their cigarettes, officials said today.

There were no injuries, but airline officials said four puffing passengers were placed under citizen's arrest by a flight attendant.

The pilot of Trans World Airlines Flight 853--a nonstop flight from Boston--radioed ahead, and Los Angeles International Airport police were waiting when the plane landed about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, the police said.

Although one flight attendant said she planned to file battery charges against a passenger who "physically confronted" her, the four passengers questioned by police were released without booking, Sgt. Wanda Alford said.

Officials said the fracas had nothing to do with a new state law that goes into effect Friday banning smoking on all intrastate flights in California.

Pushing and Shoving

Bob Blattner, a spokesman for TWA in St. Louis, said the pilot announced before departure from the gate at Boston that because of an unusually high number of requests for nonsmoking seats, smoking would be banned in the coach and business sections on the six-hour flight.

Blattner explained that under Federal Aviation Administration rules, "whenever a nonsmoker requests a nonsmoking seat, he or she must be accommodated and we must expand the nonsmoking section."

The Lockheed L-1011 jumbo jet took off without incident from Boston carrying 272 passengers--just three short of capacity--and a crew of 12.

The altercation--which reportedly involved some pushing and shoving--began about an hour before landing when 11 passengers in the coach section "decided to light up their cigarettes in some kind of a protest," Blattner said.

"A flight attendant, along with the flight service manager, approached them and requested that they put out their cigarettes," Blattner said. "There were verbal exchanges, booing, and it got enough into a physical pushing and shoving on a flight attendant so the captain was called.

'Volatile Situation'

"He came back, realized he was in a pretty volatile situation, so he called ahead and asked that the police be waiting when he landed."

After questioning, several passengers were released and the whole matter was turned over to the FBI for any further investigation, according to Los Angeles Department of Airports officials. The FBI said today that it has not yet received enough information to comment on the case.

Three major airlines--American, PSA and United--along with Amtrak, the national passenger railway system, have announced that they will not comply with the new California law that goes into effect Friday banning smoking on all commercial trips that begin and end within the state.

A federal law banning smoking on all flights of less than two hours goes into effect April 22. The three airlines said they will impose the federal regulation on that date but they contend that current federal law permitting smoking on most flights preempts any state law until then.

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