Flying the Friendly Skies

Posted August 31, 2007 at 6:38pm

With all the goings-on in airport terminals this August recess, HOH was reminded that airports have been the scene of many a Congressional scandal. [IMGCAP(1)]

The long lines and long waits add up to short tempers and some low, low moments, reminding us that not all nuts come in little foil bags.

Boston University psychologist Tom Cottle says it’s no surprise that Members of Congress are on their worst behavior when flying today’s none-too-friendly skies. Air travel brings out the worst in people, he says, because of the stress and anxiety that comes with being ordered around by airport security: Take off your shoes. Stand here. Wait here.

“The powerful people of the world have the hardest time with it, because they don’t like to relinquish power,” Cottle says. “So there’s some acting out.”

For your back-to-session edification, HOH brings you this retrospective of some previously reported incidents involving Members who, no matter what their tickets said, were hardly traveling first-class:

Passenger: Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)
Airport: Minneapolis-St. Paul International
Incident: Craig was arrested by airport cops in June for allegedly seeking lewd acts in a men’s bathroom, and he pleaded guilty Aug. 8 to disorderly conduct. The action in the bathroom stall stalled his career: Though Craig has since said he regrets making the guilty plea and says he did nothing wrong, Republicans quickly called for him to

Passenger: Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.)
Airport: Dulles International
Incident: A Loudoun County judge smacked Filner with an assault-and-battery charge after the Congressman allegedly pushed an airline worker and entered an employee-only area while waiting for his luggage on Aug. 19. His take: It’s all a misunderstanding. He’s awaiting an Oct. 2 court date.

Passenger: Former Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.)
Airport: Louisville International
Incident: Hostettler was packing heat — a semiautomatic pistol, to be precise — when he tried to go through a screening checkpoint in April 2004, earning him a citation (and not the good kind). Hostettler, who has a conceal-and-carry permit in Indiana, said he was carrying the gun for protection while traveling in his district and forgot to remove the gun. He pleaded guilty to carrying a deadly concealed weapon and agreed to a plea-bargained sentence of 60 days in jail, with jail time conditionally discharged if he stayed on the right side of the law for the next two years. On Oct. 4, 2004, a Kentucky judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest after Hostettler failed to pay court costs. It was recalled after his attorney coughed up $122.50.

Passenger: Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)
Airport: Los Angeles International
Incident: Oversized bags and pesky security guards weren’t going to stop Kennedy from boarding a flight in 2000. After the bulky-bagged Congressman couldn’t fit his carry-on luggage into LAX’s X-ray machine, Kennedy simply picked up one of his smaller bags and rushed through the metal detector. In a video that was released, Kennedy was seen charging into an airport security guard before being stopped. Despite the caught-on-film incident, city officials decided not to press charges.

Passenger: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas)
Airport: Reagan National
Incident: Jackson Lee made good on her diva-esque reputation in 1998, when on a flight back to Houston the Congresswoman reportedly yelled, “Don’t you know who I am?” after a Continental Airlines flight attendant failed to deliver her preferred seafood entrée. Jackson Lee made sure everyone knew who she was, announcing, “I’m Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Where is my seafood meal? I know it was ordered!” Her tantrum prompted a lobbyist for Continental Airlines, which Jackson Lee often used, to reportedly warn her to clean up her act or use a different airline.

In another snafu the following year, Jackson Lee had boarded her plane but became flustered when she couldn’t find her purse, thinking she had left it in the boarding area. She deplaned in search of the errant purse, and the plane pulled away from the gate. The irate Congresswoman then demanded to be let back on the plane, calling the airline employees racist after they refused to bring the plane back, which was against FAA rules. The crew did recover the missing purse, which had been on the plane the whole time. Without any fanfare, the crew dropped it from the cockpit window before taking off — without Jackson Lee.

Prada, the Sequel. “The Devil Wears Prada” isn’t just a fun beach read or an entry on your Netflix queue (we won’t tell anyone, we promise). Instead, it’s how some insiders are referring to the not-quite-campaign of presidential wannabe and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.). According to a Republican consultant, some female staffers on the Thompson campaign have taken to referring to the operation as “The Devil Wears Prada II,” comparing the campaign to the movie and Thompson’s wife, Jeri, to the lead character played by Meryl Streep. You’ll remember (oh, admit it, you watched it) that Streep plays a rhymes-with-witch tyrant who runs a fictional fashion magazine with an iron hand and antagonizes underlings with an impossible-to-please attitude.

According to HOH’s in-the-know source, some of the female campaign staffers “refer to it as ‘The Devil Wears Prada II’ because of all of the demands [Jeri Thompson makes], what she wears, [the fact that, in terms of temperament] she’s up and down. That’s the gist of it.”

“You never know how she’s going to be every day,” the source adds. “When she clacks her high heels in the hallway, [staffers] all go scrambling” in an attempt to stay out of her way — and clear of her wrath.

A Thompson spokesman dismissed the tale as “ridiculous” and said it didn’t warrant the attention of the campaign.

Still, it sounds to HOH like there might be a need for some “Law & Order” in the Thompson camp.

Better Know a Congress. Funnyman Stephen Colbert was at it again over the August recess, casting around for more victims, er, subjects, for the “Better Know a District” feature on his news-parody show “The Colbert Report,” in which he interviews House Members to wacky effect. According to one House aide contacted by Colbert’s producers, though, the anchor’s peeps might want to get to know Congress a bit first before making their pitch.

When the aide politely declined to make his boss available for an interview, the Colbert producer made a valiant effort to persuade him to change his mind. “We’re gonna get all 355 of you,” the producer countered. “Um,” the aide said. “I think you’re going to be about 80 short.”

Tour de Scandal. A tour of Minneapolis for politically savvy folks just wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the now-infamous airport bathroom where Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in a gay-sex sting. Lobbyists were chuckling over an e-mail last week inviting them to a “preview tour” of the site of the Republican National Convention with Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). The fundraiser invite makes no mention of whether Coleman would include the scene of Craig’s crime on his sightseeing route, but we’re guessing that’s one Minneapolis tourist attraction Coleman’s none too eager to promote.

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