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Sometimes People Are Just Plane Rude

September 02, 1997|NANCY WRIDE and STEVE EMMONS

The "Vile High Club" is what the Sunday Times of London dubbed a spate of airplane donnybrooks and standoffs in recent years. The international headlines about an American financier who used a food trolley as a bathroom provoked a flurry of attention to other bad behavior in the skies. A sampling of the more memorable:

* Eric Douglas, 38, youngest son of actor Kirk, has twice been arrested in L.A. on federal charges of disrupting an airline flight.

He was charged with refusing to put his 20-pound dog in a cage during a March 1996, Continental Airlines flight from L.A. to Newark, N.J., and also of verbally abusing crew members and tossing rolled-up blankets at them. He eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of disrupting a cross-country flight and was ordered to enter a drug rehabilitation program. He dropped out of the program, and a New Jersey judge ordered him to serve a month in jail plus pay a $5,000 fine.

In November 1995, a judge dismissed charges against Douglas that he disrupted an American Airlines flight by squeezing the behind of a flight attendant and insisted his dog sit in his lap.

* Actress Elizabeth Ashley was fined $2,000 recently for tampering with an airline smoke detector.

* For becoming irate when not served her drink promptly enough, Saudi princess Salwa Qahanti was placed on six months' unsupervised probation and ordered to pay $500 restitution as a result of federal charges that she scratched the arm of a TWA flight attendant on a plane from Paris to Boston.

* Becker vs. American Airlines is a bizarre case in which a wealthy Beverly Hills widow was, following an in-flight disturbance, bound with her dog's leash by the captain of her flight.

Marcelle Becker, wife of the late insurance magnate Martin Becker, boarded the plane July 6, 1995, in New York with her cherished pooch, Dom Perignon. Dom was traveling in a Louis Vuitton carrier on a first-class seat his mistress purchased for him. In a lawsuit against the airline, she also claims the dog's carrier was kicked under a seat before takeoff, though eventually the Maltese was returned to its seat.

She says her dog escaped his carrier by way of a broken zipper and that the flight crew panicked and shook her from her nap. After they awakened her to catch her loose dog, the crew claims, the pilot of the plane had to restrain her hands behind her back with the dog's leash because she grew so disruptive and unmanageable.

Becker was not criminally charged but brought a civil suit against the airline seeking damages for assault, battery, civil rights violations and cruelty to animals (she claimed her purebred Maltese later died of heart and back problems caused by the traumatic episode).

The trial date has been repeatedly continued and is scheduled for February.

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