By Ed Friedrich / Kitsap Sun
OLYMPIA — Under a bill introduced this week by a Gig Harbor lawmaker, airport police in Washington wouldn’t be allowed to drag passengers off of planes as occurred a month ago in Chicago.
House Bill 2211, submitted by Rep. Jesse Young on Monday, states that a port operating an airport can’t permit its police officers to remove passengers from an aircraft to enforce the airline’s overbooking policies or any other policies not related to safety and security.
Young, a Republican, acknowledged the bill won’t likely go anywhere this year. The Legislature is in special session. Only budget leaders are meeting now in Olympia, wrangling over how to fund schools.
Committees such as Public Safety, where the bill was sent, won’t be convening again. Though improbable, the bill could grab the attention of Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, who could pull it to the floor for consideration. It more than likely will just get a head start for next year’s short session.
The bill resulted from recent airline incidents, particularly an overbooked April 9 United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville. David Dao, who was already seated, refused to give up his spot to a United crew member who needed to get to Louisville to work another flight. He was dragged out of the jet by security officers, suffering injuries in the process. Video taken by a passenger went viral.
Young, who flies often for his job, said he didn’t introduce the bill because he was offended by the bloody pictures of Dao, but because officers were pulled away from their normal duties to be airline enforcers.
He met with policy experts who at first didn’t believe anything could be done because airlines are federally regulated.
“We can’t regulate the airlines, but the ports are our jurisdictions and, more importantly, so are the police that work at the ports,” Young said. “The bill says you cannot use police or security for a commercial or non-security issue.”
No other state has attempted similar legislation, Young said. His bill could awaken them to the potential.
What occurred in Chicago couldn’t happen at Sea-Tac Airport, said Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper.
“We don’t do those things with our police,” he said. “We only respond to disturbances or potential criminal activity. Sometimes we have warrant arrests where it may be necessary to go on board. Our airlines know here that they don’t call us for removing someone from an overbooking situation.”
In that case, Young said, the airport should embrace the bill because it defines its position. There’s much fine print on airline tickets that nobody reads, he said, and he doesn’t want airlines to think that when passengers violate it that they can sic airport police on them.
“Given recent events, I think we need to clarify,” he said. “The key phrase is any ‘non-security-related matter.’ If (Sea-Tac) is not doing it, great. They should look at this as a friendly bill to make sure they’re never forced into a position to use their police force or divert their police force from security matters to non-security matters.”
Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, is a Seattle Police officer when not serving as a lawmaker. Police just want to do their jobs and keep people safe, he said. They don’t want to content with businesses’ civil matters.
“Law enforcement officers have every right to keep airports and airplanes safe, but they can’t be used for any other purpose,” he said. “With that intent to (Young’s) legislation, I think it’s a positive step forward for everybody. Bright lines make good laws. If you know exactly what the boundaries are, it makes it so much easier foo the airlines and the airports to know exactly what to do to resolve what could be really dramatic situations for people.”