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27 November 2011

Passenger arrested for viewing child pornography in flight

On Saturday November 26th, a 47-year old man was arrested at Boston's Logan airport after he was allegedly seen viewing child pornography on a flight from Salt Lake City to Boston. The accused passenger, University of Utah chemistry professor Grant Smith, was sitting in first class when another passenger saw the pornographic images on a laptop and alerted the crew.

The accused passenger was charged with possession of child pornography and taken into custody and arrested. According to police, other passengers took a cellphone photo of the accused watching a suspected child porn video on his laptop.

According to prosecutors, a passenger seated behind Smith’s first class seat on the Delta flight on Saturday took a picture of what Smith was doing and sent a text message to his son with the picture, asking his son to contact Massachusetts police.

The passenger also alerted a flight attendant who confronted Smith and ordered him to shut off his computer, which happened to be the property of the University of Utah. After being contacted by the flight attendant, Smith allegedly tried to erase images from his computer. The images were mostly of girls between six and ten years old, naked or nearly naked, engaging in simulated sex acts.

Smith's employer, the University of Utah, has placed him on administrative leave and says it will permanently dismiss him if the child porn allegations are proven to be true.

In the recently published Baggage and Security Guide, the issue of what passengers can or should be able to do with their laptop or other personal electronic device was discussed in some detail. There are two issues from that Guide that this recent incident in Boston brings up, the limitations of free speech and common sense limitations on the use of personal electronic devices in an aircraft cabin.

The First Amendment and personal electronic devices
In the US, the First Amendment of the Constitution forms the basis of laws and traditions when it comes to freedom of speech, which includes the right of adults to possess or view most, but not all, forms of sexually oriented material. One of the few limitations on speech is in the area of obscene material, specifically material that has been legally determined to be sexually explicit, offensive to conventional standards of decency, and lacking in serious literary, scientific, artistic, or political value.

While it may be difficult for the average person to identify obscene material, one type that is very easy to spot is child pornography, which is any kind of visual depiction of a person under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The conduct does not have to involve either sexual acts or nudity, though in this alleged incident, the images contained both nudity and simulated sexual activity. This kind of material is illegal for anyone in the United States to view, possess, or publish.

What to do if you see child porn in flight
If you are on an airplane and you see what appears to be images or videos depicting child pornography, bring it to the attention of a cabin crew member immediately. This appears to be exactly what passengers did during the recent incident on the Delta flight to Boston. If this is not possible, and you are arriving at a US airport, contact a law enforcement representative after you land. If you are landing at a non-US airport, use your best judgment as to whether you should report what you saw.

Passenger behavior and electronic devices
Airline policies, and especially the cabin crew on your flight, usually are quite clear about when portable electronic devices can and cannot be used on an aircraft. What is not quite as clear is what is an acceptable use of these devices. Federal laws may affect when you can use a personal electronic device, but airline policies and social conventions may limit how you can use your device. Avoiding the potential embarrassment of having a flight attendant asking you to turn off your device, or avoiding the wrath of your fellow passengers, is easy if you follow these common sense suggestions for appropriate behavior involving portable electronic devices:
  • Avoid making excessive noise - When playing music or videos, use headphones or earphones. For other devices that don't have a headphone jack, turn off the audio. If that is not possible, don't use the device. If you are on the phone, there's no need to speak loudly enough to be heard across the cabin. If you want to use some kind of voice recording device during the flight is within the rules, exercise some judgment and don't do it loudly or for long periods.

  • Avoid displaying inappropriate images - These kinds of images generally include depictions of sexual activity, sexually suggestive nudity, material depicting extreme acts of violence, or other images that could be upsetting to other passengers. In the US, with very few exceptions, violent, disturbing, or sexually explicit material is legal to own. The problems come when one person's freedom to watch almost anything imaginable runs counter to an airline’s desire to provide an acceptable environment for all of its passengers. The inside of an airliner is not a private space where passengers are free to watch what they please. Most flight attendants would likely take a common sense approach and won't do anything about what people are viewing unless it is disturbing other passengers.

  • Don't photograph people without their permission - Inside an aircraft, there is a certain expectation of privacy. While it may be tempting to shoot a funny picture or video of that snoring passenger across the aisle, don't do it without asking first.

  • Don’t photograph unaccompanied children - It is customary to get a parent or guardian's permission before photographing a child, but that is not possible with a child traveling alone. Furthermore, to other passengers and to the crew, a person taking pictures or shooting a video of an unaccompanied child may look either creepy or suspicious.
Your personal privacy and electronic devices
When flying domestically in the US, TSA may inspect computers and other electronic devices for explosives and other hazardous or banned items, but they will not confiscate them, scan them, or even turn them on as part of their normal duties. Should anyone at a TSA checkpoint attempt to confiscate your electronic device or gain your passwords or other information, please to see a supervisor or screening manager immediately.

When entering or leaving the US, Customs and Border Enforcement officers are responsible for ensuring compliance with customs, immigration, and other federal laws, and may examine or even confiscate computers, digital storage devices, and other electronic devices. This can happen even if they don't have any evidence that you are breaking the law.

Photo: ShaneRobinson

21 November 2011

Revised Baggage and Security Guide Published

A revised and greatly expanded version of one of's most popular downloads, the Baggage and Security Guide, has just been released. Bringing together some of the most popular content from the network of web sites, podcasts, and published articles, this book provides airline passengers with advice on how to deal with many common problems they may face when it comes to dealing with baggage problems, airport security issues, fear of flying, and travel with children.

Multiple versions available
The original download was available only as a PDF file. The revised version is available as a PDF as well, but also in MOBI format (used on Kindles), and EPUB format (used with iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Nook). If you want to use different formats on different devices, please feel to download different versions of this book at You can put different formats on different devices so you can try them out to find out what works best for you.

Download MOBI
Download EPUB
Download PDF

Since 1996, has provided the public with insights and advice about a wide range of airline topics on its web sites, blogs, podcasts, and downloadable documents, and many of the most popular topics are included in this ebook.
This ebook puts a lot of useful information in one convenient place. Combining information from the network of web sites, this book covers the following areas:
  • Things you should not bring on board
  • Advice for checked and carry-on baggage
  • Dealing with lost or delayed luggage
  • Travel with children or pets
  • Security and identification requirements
  • Advice for special travel situations
  • How to complain about your treatment
  • Fear of flying information and solutions

Getting the ebook version of this Guide

Get a Kindle reader for your computer or smartphone
If you don’t have a Kindle, but want to download and use the Kindle version of the Baggage and Security Guide, please visit to find out that describes how to read Kindle books without buying a Kindle.

09 November 2011

How to Fly with a Sex Toy

Last month, writer and attorney Jill Filipovic was on an international flight from Newark, NJ to Dublin, Ireland, and upon arrival found in her checked bag a printed advisory from the TSA stating that her bag had been opened and inspected by the TSA. In the margin of the note, a TSA screener added an extra message saying "Get your freak on girl." The checked bag had contained a sex toy, and presumably the message was related to the presence of that device.

The extra inspection of a checked bag was a normal TSA procedure. The additional comments were not part of a normal procedure, and TSA representative Kawika Riley later apologized for that screener's behavior and described it as "highly inappropriate and unprofessional." That TSA screener was later fired.

Issues brought up by this incident
This incident brings up two important issues for passengers. First, the legal rights passengers have when it comes to traveling with sex toys, and second, how passengers can travel safely travel with these items.

What is a sex toy?
A sex toy is an object or device that is primarily used to enhance or facilitate sexual pleasure. Sex toys include things like dildos and vibrators, and can be made from a variety of materials, including glass, wood, plastic, silicone, or latex. While some sex toys are designed to resemble male or female human genitals, many are not. Also, while many other common items may have a secondary use as a sex toy, this article is focused on those items that have been designed to be used primarily as a sex toy.

What are the laws or rules concerning air travel with sex toys?
The laws, rules, and regulations concerning travel with sex toys depend on where you travel. In general, when you travel domestically within a country, you should observe the appropriate laws and regulations of that country. When you travel between countries, you have to consider the laws of the country you are traveling from, the country you are traveling to, and any country you may be passing through on the way to your destination.

In the US, when it comes to flying on airliners or going through TSA security, the only limits that matter are the normal limits on hazardous or banned items. While there may be local or state laws restricting the possession of sex toys, there are no federal restrictions on ownership. If you review's page on prohibited and restricted items, you will see that the TSA would likely not have a reason to ban most sex toys.

Tips for traveling with sex toys
There are a number of common sense things that you can do to protect your sex toys and to limit the likelihood that the TSA will cause you any embarrassment or excessive delays:
  • Tell the truth: If a TSA screener asks you what is in your baggage just say what it is.
  • Remove batteries: This suggestion applies to any battery-powered item in your baggage that won't be used in flight.

  • Put your items in separate clear plastic bags: Keeping items in Ziploc type bags keeps them from being contaminated by handling by TSA screeners.

  • Don't pack banned items: Most sharp items, and liquid filled or gel filled items are typically banned from carry on baggage, but can be packed in checked luggage.
Complaining about your treatment
Although traveling with sex toys is completely legal in the US, you may still encounter TSA officials whose conduct toward you may be rude or unprofessional. If this happens at a security screening area, you should immediately request to see a supervisor to discuss the matter. You also have several options for submitting a formal complaint. You could email the TSA’s Contact Center at:, or if you believe you have been the target of discriminatory conduct you contact the TSA Office of Civil Rights and Liberties.

For detailed advice on how to complain about your treatment, you may want to review's complaint resources at

Listen to the podcast episode
Get the Baggage and Security Guide

03 November 2011

767 Lands with Gear Up in Warsaw

1 November 2011; LOT 767-300; SP-LPC; flight 16; Warsaw, Poland: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Newark, NJ to Warsaw, a flight that was uneventful until shortly before landing when the crew was unable to lower the landing gear. The crew continued to fly and burn off fuel for about 90 minutes, giving emergency crews time to foam the runway, and allowing the authorities to dispatch a pair of F-16s to inspect the LOT aircraft. The crew executed a successful gear up landing that resulted in no injuries among the 220 passengers and 11 crew members.

Gear up landings, while spectacular, typically end as this event did, with the aircraft largely intact and no one injured. What is unusual is that it landed with all of the gear up. More typical is what happened on October 18, 2011 when the crew of an IranAir 727 on a flight from Moscow to Tehran had to land with its landing gear, in this case the nose landing gear, still retracted. As was the case with the LOT 767 landing, because of the skill of the crew, this event was spectacular, but not tragic. There were no injuries among the 94 passengers and 19 crew members.

Gear up landings in Warsaw and Tehran

Audio: MP3 | Video: YouTube | Download M4V

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