Straitjacket for the skies

To immobilize air ragers, airlines try on the handcuffs and straps of the "Body Restraint Package."

By Elliott Neal Hester
Published August 11, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Alas, a solution to air rage.

Roger Fuller, a former police sergeant, has developed a device to help airline crews subdue violent passengers. Equal parts straitjacket and medieval torture instrument, the "Body Restraint Package" is designed with the most serious offenders in mind.

This is no joke.

When violence erupts at 30,000 feet, passengers and crew can't dial 911. They're temporarily cut off from society -- forced to deal with the problem on their own inadequate terms -- until the captain diverts the aircraft to the nearest airport and authorities gain entry to the cabin.

Airline crews are not properly trained to subdue in-flight attackers. Most flight attendants are not physically equipped for the challenge. Pilots are less willing to abandon two-person cockpits and risk injury while settling disputes. All that's left is a pair of plastic flex-cuffs, and the willingness of able-bodied passengers and crew.

Bring on the Body Restraint Package.

Employing a hodgepodge of handcuffs and restraints, the BRP is designed to lock down aggressors by clamping them to their seat. The device is made up of five components: An upper-body restraint, waist-restraint belt, handcuffs, lower-arm restraint and leg restraints. When a passenger goes ballistic at 30,000 feet, crew members would approach the offender from behind and lasso him like a rodeo steer, using the strap attached at the end of the upper-body restraint. When the restraint is pulled tight, the offender is effectively immobilized.

For total lock-down, handcuffs and additional devices can be engaged. All that's needed is a Hannibal Lecter-like facemask that will silence aggressors. This would have come in handy with the out-of-control passenger who spat blood and cursed after being subdued on Delta Airlines Flight 64, which diverted to Bangor, Maine, on June 6, 1999. The mask would also aid crew members by stifling threats of "I'll sue you, bastards!"

A number of airlines, including British Airways, are now testing the BRP -- and not a moment too soon.

Earlier in April, a British court sentenced a 56-year-old grandmother to six months in prison for punching a flight attendant. According to news reports, Doris Healy drank duty-free rum and inhaled amyl nitrate ("poppers") with a drag queen she met on a holiday flight to Florida. Healy "lashed out" three times at a flight attendant. She was so drunk, reports claim, that she had to be carried off the plane in a wheelchair. Even then, she managed to curse and kick out at crew members and U.S. customs officials.

Healy was a prime candidate for BRP lockdown.

One month later, a British woman went bonkers during an Airtours flight from Florida to Manchester, England. The 26-year-old, believed to have been traveling with her child, allegedly head-butted a flight attendant after being asked to stop smoking in the lavatory. After the attack, the woman was restrained in a cubicle. But she broke loose and had to be wrestled to the floor by crew members and passengers. During the ruckus, the pilots aborted landing and flew in a holding pattern until the woman settled down. The victim, flight attendant Vanessa Martinez, was later treated for a suspected broken nose.

The 26-year-old mom is another nominee for the BRP.

Then there's Patrick Connors, 36, who was convicted of endangering an aircraft during "a barroom brawl at 36,000 feet." Connors and 11 friends and family were traveling on July 21, from London to Jamaica on an Airtours flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Already smelling of alcohol when they boarded the plane at 9:25 a.m., the group reportedly began to demand beer and liquor shortly after takeoff. They sang Irish songs, argued passionately among themselves and with other passengers, then screamed obscenities and threw objects after flight attendants refused to serve them more alcoholic drinks.

The brawl began when a Jamaican passenger refused to tolerate further buffoonery. According to the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, he threw beer on Connors. While three flight attendants attempted to restrain him, Connors shouted: "I am going to have you. You are mine," while lunging at the Jamaican man. The captain diverted the plane to Norfolk, Va., where 10 uniformed FBI agents boarded the aircraft. Amid cheers and applause from many of the 326 passengers, agents removed the 12 troublemakers, many of whom live together back in Lewisham, England, in a caravan park. (That's British for trailer park.)

Airtours could have used 12 BRPs in that case.

With these and other recent incidents aboard British aircraft, it's not surprising that England has come up with the Body Restraint Package. Perhaps U.S. airlines will consider testing the device. After all, there's plenty of air raging on this side of the pond too.

Just this past March, Peter Bradley -- a 6-foot, 2-inch, 250-pound madman (who later blamed his actions on a reaction to prescription drugs) -- broke into the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines jet and attacked the copilot. Before the break in, reports claim Bradley told passengers: "I'm going to kill all of you; keep away from me." After attempting to open an exit, he entered the cockpit and fought with the copilot who had armed himself with an ax. At least six passengers responded to the captain's call for help. They subdued Bradley using plastic restraints, but would have been much better off with a trusty BRP.

So too would the captain of a July 12 America West flight. But this time he would have had to BRP one of his own. According to the Associated Press, Brantley Meyers, an off-duty America West pilot traveling as a passenger, flew into a rage 10 minutes into the flight from Phoenix to Austin, Texas. "I guess he was yelling and screaming and throwing things," said Shellie Croft, one of the arresting officers. "The whole aircraft could hear him. He was very loud."

The captain diverted the flight to Tucson, Ariz., where Myers was taken into custody. "He didn't help and he didn't resist," Croft said. "We practically had to carry him off."

The Body Restraint Package -- something truly special in the air.

Elliott Neal Hester

Elliott Neal Hester has been a flight attendant for 15 years. He has also written for National Geographic Traveler, Men's Fitness, Glamour, Maxim and Caribbean Travel & Life. Out of the Blue appears every other Friday. E-mail your tale of life in the sky to Hester. For more columns by Hester, visit his column archive.

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