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Alec Baldwin kicked off plane. Are game-playing fliers a safety risk?

Refusal to turn off a cellphone got actor Alec Baldwin kicked off plane on Tuesday. American Airlines, which did the deed, noted his disruptive behavior. Others say there's a reason for the protocol on shutting off 'electronic devices.'

By Staff writer / December 7, 2011

It's the word-game disruption heard 'round the world, thanks to the fact that it involved actor Alec Baldwin getting kicked off an airplane – and the use of Twitter to broadcast the incident in real time.

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The celebrity refused to stop playing the interactive game Words With Friends, when instructed by an American Airlines flight attendant to shut down electronic devices. The crew kicked Mr. Baldwin off the Tuesday flight, and set in motion a cacaphony of comment and opinion from mainstream news media to the Twitterverse.

Baldwin is hardly the first celebrity kicked off an airplane. And he's hardly the only passenger who has balked at shutting down a favored device just because a flight crew says to do so.

So, how unusual is it to get kicked off a plane? Does it it seem as if this happens only to celebrities, or do celebrities behave worse than the rest of us? And was Baldwin's behavior a safety threat to the airline? 

Baldwin used a post on Twitter to cast himself as the victim: "Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving," he wrote.

For its part, the airline said this on Twitter: "Our flight attendants were following federal safety procedures on electronic devices when aircraft door is closed."

Later, on its Facebook page, American elaborated that a passenger on the flight, not named by the airline, "declined to turn off his cell phone when asked to do so at the appropriate time," stood up and slammed a lavatory door when the seat belt light was on, and used offensive language. "Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding."

Getting kicked off a commercial airline is rare, but it happens occasionally to celebrities and noncelebrities alike. 

It occurs at the discretion of the flight captain, says Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr. He says the FAA does not have statistics on how often this occurs, or on how often airplanes return to the terminal before takeoff.

The reasons can range from concerns that a person is intoxicated to the electronic-device issue. Air travel experts say that if passengers refuse to obey instructions regarding cellphones and other gadgets, safety is at risk. 

The incident is arguably no big publicity win for Baldwin or for the airline, which recently filed to reorganize in bankruptcy. Baldwin took snide note of the fact, adding the tag "#nowonderamericaairisbankrupt" to his post on Twitter. (In later tweets, he talked about changing his allegiance to United, and saying the flight attendants "look ... smarter" on the flight American rebooked him on later Tuesday.

For his part, Baldwin earned his share of scowls, including from fellow passengers who were delayed because of his gaming habits.


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