Remember When Joining the Mile-High Club Was Cool?

Nov 01, 2013 • Legal

Can you have sex during a flight?

Long gone are the days when a flight attendant would welcome you and a lover back to your seats after a tryst in the lavatory with champagne and a quip about the Mile-High Club. Since September 11, flights in the United States and many other countries have taken a serious stance against anyone who stays in a lavatory too long, going as far as to implement procedures for handling such situations — including, but not limited to, bursting right in.

Frisky passengers who haven’t let that stop them — opting for entry into the Club right in their seats — have unsurprisingly pushed flight attendants to adopt a far stricter response to public displays of affection. In 2009, for instance, a flight attendant effectively shamed me for kissing a lover on a flight from LAX to JFK. With the exception of “intimate” chartered flights and Virgin Air’s Mile-High positive attitude, the outlook is a bit dire for people looking to get a little action in the air.

Things are not at all helped by people who have no regard for anyone else abroad an aircraft, like the couple who got in hot water with the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the summer after reducing fellow passengers into a captive audience for their airline sex fantasy. According to the criminal complaint filed by Special Agent to the FBI James J. Mollica, Jr., Christopher Martin and Jessica Stroble engaged in oral sex on an Allegiant Airlines flight from Medford, Oregon to Las Vegas, Nevada, in view of pretty much everyone aboard, including teens under 18.

One of the many witnesses “observed a female passenger sitting across the aisle, in the middle seat, perform oral sex and manually stimulate the genitalia of a male passenger sitting in the window seat next to her as the plane was ascending. The male’s penis was exposed and fully erect. After completing the sex act, the female wiped off her mouth while the male put his penis back inside his pants. The male then placed his hands down the female’s pants and appeared to be manually stimulating her genitalia. The female place her hand over the man’s hand while he did so. Later in the flight, after the drink and snack service, the female passenger again performed oral sex on the male passenger. Toward the end of the flight, the male exposed the female passenger’s breast and began kissing the exposed breast.”

A flight attendant noted that the couple was asked to stop by another member of the crew at some point during the 90-minute flight before the flight attendant intervened. The couple refused to comply and were met upon landing at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport by the fine members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, who arrested them.

For anyone who’s ever wondered about the specific legalities of having sex on a commercial air craft, here are the details from Mollica’s complaint:

Count one (Lewd, Indecent, and Obscene Acts on Airplane) on or about June 20, 2012, onboard an Allegiant Airlines Flight 557, traveling from Medford, Oregon to Las Vegas, Nevada, an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, Christopher Martin and Jessica Stroble defendants herein, did make an obscene and indecent exposure of Defendant Martin’s genitalia, engaged in masturbation, and engaged in a sexual act, all in violation of Title 49, United States Code, Section 46506(2) and District of Columbia Code Sections 22-1312.

A plane is in the “special aircraft jurisdiction” while the aircraft is “in flight,” which begins when the doors are first closed and ends when they are open for disembarking or when authorities arrive to take over an aircraft that has had a forced landing. This doesn’t only apply to aircraft within the United States, but any foreign aircraft that is next bound for the United States or departing the United States.

Title 49 of the United States Code Section 46506(2), mentioned above, says “[a]n individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who commits an act that… (2) if committed in the District of Columbia would violate Section 9 of the Act of July 29, 1891 (D.C. Code §22-1112), shall be fined under Title 18, imprisoned under Section 9 of the Act, or both.” The referenced section in the D.C. Code, §22-1112, now codified as §22-1312, states “it is unlawful for a person, in public, to make an obscene or indecent exposure of his or her genitalia or anus, to engage in masturbation, or to engage in a sexual act as defined in §22-3001(8) […] A person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be fined not more than $500, imprisoned for not more than 90 days, or both.”

“Sexual act,” per §22-3001(8), means the penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva of another by a penis, contact between the mouth and the penis, the mouth and the vulva, or the mouth and the anus, or the penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva by a hand or finger or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person. “Sexual contact,” meanwhile, refers to the touching with any clothed or unclothed body part or any object, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

This is a very convoluted way of saying that anyone on an aircraft within the U.S., or within their special aircraft jurisdiction, even in the seeming privacy of an aircraft cabin and under a blanket, U.S. law prohibits you from engaging in sexual acts or exposing yourself. A lavatory, since it is accessible by all on the plane, could even be argued to be an extension of the public space.

Contacted by The Smoking Gun shortly after the criminal complaint was filed, Jessica Stroble denied the incident ever happened. She said she was unaware that charges had been filed. She declined to explain her connection to Martin, saying only that she didn’t have his contact information.

Martin was fired from his job at Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass, Oregon, following the incident. In a public statement a couple of weeks ago, he referred to the incident aboard Allegiant Airlines Flight 557 the greatest mistake of his life. “I have lost my job, my reputation and damaged the legacy I had worked 10 years to nurture and grow. I will learn from this and move on to the next chapter in my life,” he said. He asked forgiveness for his behavior, calling it “inappropriate and inconsiderate,” but continues to deny that his genitals were exposed to crew members or other passengers.

On Thursday, both pleaded guilty in absentia to a reduced charge — disorderly conduct, instead of the initial misdemeanor of lewd, indecent and obscene acts on an airplane. U.S. magistrate judge George Foley Jr. ordered each be fined $250.

Header by lostinfog.