‘Air rage’ episode gets flier arrested — (The Fort Myers News-Press)

Original article no longer available

The Fort Myers News-Press,  (FL)

August 16, 2001

Author: Peter Franceschina; StaffNews-Press Fort Myers     pfranceschina@news-press.com

Man called `unruly’ on Fort Myers flight

A Michigan man faces a Federal Aviation Administration investigation and a possible fine of up to $25,000 for an “air rage” incident that included kicking and spitting on passengers when he wasn’t allowed more than two drinks on a flight to Fort Myers.

The situation Tuesday was the second time in recent months that Michael R. Zvoch, 40, of Commerce Township, Mich., has been arrested at Southwest Florida International Airport after being accused of being drunk and disorderly.

Lee County Port Authority Police Maj. Dan Sizemore said Zvoch’s conduct on Spirit Airlines flight 627 from Detroit was more outrageous than that of a typical unruly passenger.

“This type of unruly passenger is on the extreme end, but calls for unruly passengers are common,” he said, adding airport police make about 10 to 15 arrests a year for disorderly or violent behavior.

The plane’s crew radioed ahead there was a problem with a passenger. Police were awaiting the flight’s 11:30 a.m. arrival, according to police reports.

Capt. David Miller and a steward told police Zvoch began kicking passengers and spitting on them after he was refused a third vodka and tonic. The crew moved Zvoch to the front of the plane, but his behavior continued.

Miller said Zvoch was acting strangely when he boarded the flight.

Police noted he appeared very intoxicated and that he nearly fell when he stood up. They helped him off the plane and he became very loud, yelling profanities in the concourse.

Other passengers declined to give police statements because they didn’t want to get involved. Zvoch’s behavior didn’t actually interfere with the flight, Miller said, but it made other passengers uneasy.

Police charged Zvoch with breach of the peace and obstruction of justice, both misdemeanors. He was still being held in the Lee County Jail late Wednesday on a $500 bond.

Spirit spokeswoman Laura Richeson said crew members handled Zvoch according to FAA guidelines and as best they could by moving him.

“Everything was done to ensure the comfort for all passengers,” she said, adding no passengers were injured.

Last month, the Association of Flight Attendants gave failing grades to airlines, the Justice Department and the Federal Aviation Administration in its second annual air rage report card.

The association contends the airlines and the FAA don’t do enough to prevent such incidents and train flight crew to deal with problem passengers.

The FAA has recently adopted a tougher posture toward unruly passengers. “The FAA believes that widely publicized criminal prosecutions of air rage cases serve as a strong deterrent,” the agency said in a statement last month.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said Wednesday the agency investigates all complaints of unruly passengers, and port authority police are forwarding their reports to the agency.

“We investigate to determine if the event interfered with a flight crew member,” Bergen said. “We can file a civil penalty against an unruly passenger. There can be up to a $25,0000 civil penalty. What we do is totally separate from any law enforcement investigations.”

Flight attendants say air rage incidents are on the rise, and that the numbers are under represented in FAA reports, which are made voluntarily by crew members, carriers, passengers and law enforcement.

In 1995, 146 incidents were reported to the FAA – last year, it was 314. Through June 15 of this year, 100 incidents were reported.

A trade association that represents the major U.S. carriers estimates there are anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 cases a year in which passengers are rude or obnoxious but break no laws.

Sizemore said frustration is growing along with the increasing number of air rage incidents in recent years.

“It’s a disruption to the aircraft and an interference to the air crew,” he said. “The passengers and the flight crew are demanding that some actions be taken.”

On June 26, Zvoch was arrested before he could board a flight at Southwest Florida International. He was falling into passengers at a sidewalk ticket counter. He told police he had taken Paxil – an anti-anxiety prescription drug – and several drinks, according to his arrest report.

He became obnoxious when police escorted him away, and he fell in a holding cell, cutting his forehead. Although he refused treatment, police took him to the hospital for sutures.

His hospital records in the court file show his blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.375 percent, more than four times Florida’s legal limit for driving. For that incident he faces charges of breach of the peace and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.

Record Number:  ftm2001081611042080