When a Joke Becomes Serious

We’ve all made some sort of joking criticism in our lives, be it about some eratic driver or the actions of customer service. My father in-law flew to Akron, Ohio from Philadelphia International Airport Friday and after a rather bumpy landing he made a joke to a crew member asking if the pilot was drunk. The crew member laughed it off saying no of course not but a stewardess called for airport security. The plane was grounded while the crew was tested for alcohol and upon determining no crew member had been drinking arrested my father in-law on the charges of inducing a panic.

This afternoon the charges were dropped and I was keeping quiet until this was over, so as not to draw anymore unnecessary attention to the situation. But now I want the story heard, the Beacon Journal article, has some innacuracies as well as a lack of all the facts. My father in-law has MS, it afflicts him in the brain to the point he is considered handicapped and has the papers to prove it. Reporter Gina Mace does not acknowledge this at all in her article and paints a picture of a jokester who is getting his due. On top of that my father in-law did not make “a comment in front of the flight crew, ground crew, staff and passengers that “that was a terrible landing. The pilot must be drunk.'” he made it in passing to one crew member in the form of a joking question, “That was rather bumpy was the pilot drunk.” another crew member misconstrued his comments and reported it. Should not the reporter of the incident, in this case a stewardess, be held accountable? Maybe she had some malicous feelings towards the pilot and wanted to give him a hard time.

Outside of that upon learning of my father in-laws illness the Akron authorities shrugged. Would we charge a mentally retarded person who says the same thing? Are we that over cautious? On top of shrugging the Akron authorities failed to give him his medication (for cardiac and MS) while in their custody, failed to feed him and lost his necklace.

Luckily for us this nightmare is over, unfortunately for some Akron authorities their nightmare is just beginning.

14 Comments so far

  1. Tessa (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 6:06 pm

    Belligerence, inappropriate jokes and threats are not tolerated. Jokes and/or comments about threats to passengers or the aircraft will be taken seriously and could result in criminal or civil penalties for the passenger. – U.S. Department of Homeland Security

    I have been on many flights to know this is serious.

    “Akron authorities,” FAA or local police?

    Your issue is with the newspaper reporter, not the flight attendant. They have not been called stewardess for many, many years. Where have you been?

  2. brady (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

    Tessa, are you retarded?

  3. Leslie (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

    I was seeing your point of view until you wrote that they “lost his necklace”. Somehow your story lost credibility there.

    Glad your father-in-law is okay though.

  4. Chris (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 10:39 pm


    When he was booked into the Akron jail he was forced to surrender his personal belongings, one of which happened to be a necklace. The man was in jail for just about 24 hours but when he was released on bond the, for lack of a better word on my part, “jailers” claimed to have lost his necklace. Re-reading the post I do see that I was somewhat vague in my wording there.


    My use of the word stewardess comes directly from the Akron authorities, not the FAA. The FAA called local police, claiming a threat was made, Akron police then spent three hours trying to come up with a charge to file against him while holding my mother in-law. No “Jokes and/or comments about threats to passengers or the aircraft” were made. The plane had landed, a private conversation between another crew member and my father in-law was taking place and a stewardess (flight attendant if you must) misconstrued a comment and filed a report. Yes there are issues with the reporter as well but this strands down from the initial reporter, who under Ohio law, should have been the one charged since she made the report. My father in-law did not meet the requirements to actually have broken the law which was why all charges were dropped today.

  5. Chris (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

    And Tessa,

    You failed to answer one of my questions, “Would we charge a mentally retarded person who says the same thing?” but I take it by your above response that you would in fact charge a mentally retarded person. It must be nice to be able to kick the crippled from your tower of superiority.

  6. Tessa (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 12:50 am

    I don’t think “retarded” is appropriate given the subject matter.

    I was making statements not criticizing. Your follow up comment does bring more to light and explains the situation a bit clearer. However, “holding my mother in-law,” does this mean she was forcefully being detained also? I understand your upset and this is a terrible thing to happen. My point is that jokes are taken seriously. What happen afterwards was not handled well.

  7. Chris (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 6:15 am


    Yes my mother in-law was forcefully detained against her will. They told her that was not going to be able to leave until they had processed her husband because they did not want her leaving and calling family who would come down to the station and “make a scene”.

    I completely understad that jokes are taken seriously. It would be one thing to stand up say “Everybody I have a bomb” but what was said here wasn’t in those terms. One it was a joking question, maybe a joke in poor taste but still a question. I’ve heard worse and not in joke form but nothing was done to either the person “asking” or the person being “accused” and this was recently not before 9/11. Lawyers here in Philly as well as officials from the Philly International both said that if that was said here in Philly (a much bigger airport than little Hickville, Ohio) this never would have happened, at worst the pilot would have been asked to take a quick breathalizer from a field unit.

    Sorry I took your words in a combative light and fired back.

  8. brady (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 8:24 am

    I’m sorry also with my choice of the word “retarded.”

    “Uninformed” would have been a much better choice, but then there would have been no question.

  9. brady (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 8:26 am


    Also, a person who has MS does not qualify as “retarded,” so I’m not sure what you mean by saying “given the subject matter…”

  10. Meghan (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:24 am

    It’s no wonder anyone in the aviation business is on edge these days – be it flight attendent or pilot.

    I would venture to say that the reaction to your father-in-law’s comments made on the plane, Chris, were more of an overreaction. The authorities could have saved themselves a lot of time, money and effort.

    So, if I am on a plane, I used the cramped lavatory after a nice meal of tacos and refried beans and I comment, “It smells like someone died in there!” – am I going to be investigated for manslaughter?

    While a good trial-by-glade might be in order, the only thing I murdered would have been everyone’s sense of smell.


  11. zendog (unregistered) on March 24th, 2007 @ 10:12 am

    What if someone was not joking and really thought the pilot was drunk? Would the person still have been arrested? I wonder what the police would have come up with if your father in law changed his story to “Oh…I really thought he was drunk the way the plane bouncing around! I just phased it as a joke to ease the complaint to the crew, but I wanted to bring it to their attention that I KNOW”)

  12. Chris (unregistered) on March 24th, 2007 @ 11:48 am


    If someone had changed their story to that they mostly would not have had the charges dropped. I think additional charges would also be placed. We evidently are no longer aloud to express and opinion or question anyone when it comes to aviation.

  13. gina (unregistered) on April 10th, 2007 @ 2:51 am

    I am the journalist who wrote the Beacon Journal story. The story was based on the sheriff’s deputies’ report of the incident and interviews with the deputies and a spokesperson for the airline. I did not have a phone number for your father-in-law, although I doubt he would have spoken on the record while the case was pending.

    Because of Ohio’s privacy laws, I was not aprised of your father-in-law’s medical problem until it was mentioned on the record, in court, the day the case was dismissed. The second story mentions that as the reason the case was dismissed.

    What people fail to understand is that journalists can only work with the information they are given AND can verify. If I’d had the info about his medical condition, I certainly would have included it in the first story.

    Whether this was a case of overkill is not for me to say. Judging from the comments I heard on local talk radio the day the story appeared, many people thought it was.

  14. Chris (unregistered) on April 10th, 2007 @ 11:35 am

    Hi Gina,

    I completely understand how journalists are forced to report things but your article made the incident out to be a joke. Funny-funny ha-ha, guy makes stupid comment and gets called on it BUT in reality that’s not what happened. On top of that your paper buried the dismissal story, running the story almost a week after the charges were dropped, in an 86 word blurb.

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