Flight 69

Clearly, Bill Clinton will never fly Southwest Airlines.

They’re the folks who have hanky-panky confused with terrorism and customers with criminals. They actually called the cops on a couple of passionate passengers whose mile-high antics may fetch them 20 years in prison.

By now, we’ve all heard about and are snickering over Dawn Sewall and Carl Persing. Yahoo News reports the 40-somethings "were allegedly snuggling and kissing inappropriately"; UPI tells us they "repeatedly refused requests to stop engaging in foreplay on a flight to Raleigh, N.C." Michael Sutton, one of the FBI agents awaiting the lovers when the flight landed, provides further titillating details in an affidavit: they were "embracing, kissing, and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable. PERSING was observed kissing SEWELL on the neck, and around the collarbone in the vicinity of her breast." Hmmm. Maybe the Bureau oughta spring for some anatomy lessons. "PERSING was also observed with his face pressed against SEWELL’s vaginal area." OK, well… let’s remember the misinformation over the collarbone’s location. And there may be a far less heated explanation, anyway: Persing’s lawyer contends that "his client was not feeling well when he placed his head on his companion’s lap." Oh, right, the affidavit snorts: "During these actions, SEWELL was observed smiling."

If there’s one thing the police state disapproves, it’s unseemly delight. Those who disport in public ought at least to refrain from smiling. It makes the fascists jealous.

SEWELL and PERSING may be BOLD, but they are far from heroic. The affidavit makes clear that we’re dealing with a pair of loutish libertines here, the sort at whom one longs to throw twenty bucks while hissing, "Hey, get a room." There’s a time and place for everything, as a sage observed some 2900 years ago — and he knew something about desire if his 700 wives and 300 concubines are any measure.

Still, despite their felonies against decency, neither the lady nor her paramour committed any crime. No one aboard the flight was robbed or killed. Nor was anyone assaulted: the lovers groped only each other. Sadly, that’s more than we can say for the security screeners who searched them before they boarded that plane.

Indeed, the affidavit proves how far sunk in totalitarianism we are. Remember the "other passengers" whom Persing and Sewell "made uncomfortable"? The affidavit doesn’t mention them again. Rather, it’s the flight crew who are uncomfortable when Persing and Sewell defy their orders, mock them, and refuse to kowtow. These glorified waiters and waitresses are now protected by Title 49, 46504, "Interference with flight crew members and attendants," of the US Code; obviously, passengers who displease them are terrorists and can be abused accordingly. Revenge against an ill-mannered public has never been easier or more satisfying.

In the absence of anything substantive, the affidavit settles for the scintillating. Persing and Sewell were hot and heavy on the first leg of their flight from Los Angeles when an attendant, dubbed "FA-1″ by the unimaginative Sutton, told them to knock it off. They did, only to resume during the next leg. FA-1 scolded them again. This time Persing "pointed and shook his finger at FA-1and said, u2018I’m going to give you one warning to get out of my face’" — an unfortunate phrasing, but hardly a terrorist threat.

Later, during the flight’s "beverage service," FA-1 asked if Persing, who’d had a drink on the LA-to-Phoenix segment (now some hours past), wanted another. Turns out he had no intention of pouring anything stronger than Coke; but for Title 49, we might conclude that he was taunting his customer. Poor Persing swallowed the bait and requested alcohol. "Due to his previous behavior, FA-1 informed PERSING that he would not be served any…." Can’t you just hear the smug tones in which this little sermon was delivered? Understandably, "PERSING responded by stating, u2018there is going to be a serious confrontation between you and me." Not exactly Al Qaeda lingo, is it? His girlfriend now asked for a drink; FA-1 denied her too, though she’d so far imbibed nothing alcoholic.

The power play continued. Sewell moved about the cabin after FA-1 ordered her to return to her seat; he even convinced the captain to abet him by turning on the "Fasten Seatbelt" sign, but Sewell "ignor[ed] the instructions of the flight crew member." When the flight attendants organized a game that involved guessing their ages, Persing hollered that FA-1 was about 14. His fellow attendant "thought Persing was doing this to bait or taunt FA-1." If anyone’s gonna be taunted, it’ll be the passengers, by gosh. "…PERSING and SEWELL’s actions and comments…led FA-1 to believe a physical confrontation may ensue." Poor baby.

And so Persing and Sewell "in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, did assault or intimidate a flight attendant of the aircraft, interfered with and lessened the ability of the flight attendant to perform his duties;" — yep, trundling that beverage cart down the aisle and closing those overhead bins are essential to national security — "and did aid and abet another, in violation Title 49, United States Code (USC) 46504, and Title 18, USC 2." [Emphasis added.] But what else can we expect? The state has erected a huge terrorist-catching apparatus; in the absence of terrorists, what’s left for the catchers to do but vent their spleen on boors like Persing and Sewell? Eventually, the catchers will run out of boors. Then they’ll come after us.

It’s easy to laugh at this case, at the pathetic lust of middle-aged exhibitionists. But we need to look past the double entendres to the deeply disturbing undercurrents here.

You can bet Leviathan does.