In New York, airplane phone calls could land you in court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Refusing to turn off a cell phone or laptop during takeoff from a New York area airport could soon land airline passengers a one-way ticket to court.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said on Tuesday it is exploring suing the worst offenders who fail to comply with guidelines for turning off electronic devices on the runway and sometimes cause costly and annoying delays.

The issue got national attention last year after actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines flight for repeatedly refusing to stop playing a game on his phone as his plane prepared to depart from Los Angeles.

The Port Authority oversees LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark airports, where in 2011 police responded to more than 400 cases of passengers who would not turn off their cell phones or laptops or caused “some other kind of disruption,” said spokesman Steve Coleman.

“We’re considering taking them to civil court and try to recover damages incurred by the airline, the Port Authority and others,” said Coleman.

New York has some of the busiest airports in the country and delays often have ripple effects at other U.S. airports.

The average cost to run a passenger airline is $5,867 per hour, said Steve Lott, spokesman for the airline trade association Airlines for America.

Lott said it was “extremely rare” for passengers to violate the guidelines, noting there were more than 1.2 million flights that operated out of LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports last year.

There are no current civil penalties for flaunting the guidelines. Unruly behaviour is punishable under criminal law if it rises to the level of an offense such as disorderly conduct.

Brandon Macsata, executive director for the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, said he supported initiatives to improve airline on-time performance but expressed “caution against singling out passengers for delays.”

Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Shumaker