is a member of The Inquirer Editorial Board
To the long list of airport problems you might encounter this summer, add one more hazard: misbehaving congressmen.
A Democratic lawmaker was charged with assaulting an airline employee (yes, it's a crime) at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.
And a Republican senator pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for his behavior in a men's restroom at the airport in Minneapolis.
Let's start with the case of Sen. Larry Craig (R., Idaho), because it is a cautionary tale about life inside a public-restroom stall.
Airport police in Minneapolis received complaints about lewd behavior in a men's restroom. So a plainclothes officer did what any good detective would do: He entered a stall, made himself comfortable, and waited.
Along came Craig, on his way back to Washington to defeat more gay-rights proposals. The officer said the senator peered into his stall through the crack in the door, then occupied the adjacent stall. The senator began tapping his foot.
The detective said tapping one's foot in a stall is a commonly understood signal that one desires sex. Let this be a lesson to anyone thinking about listening to an iPod in a public commode.
The senator then slid his foot under the stall divider until his shoe was touching the officer's shoe. Craig said later it was not a come-on. The senator explained that he has a "wide stance" when nature calls.
File that one under "too much information."
Having interviewed the senator on many occasions, I really did want to give him the benefit of the enormous doubt. So I conducted a brief experiment in the nearest men's room stall. First, I made sure there was nobody in an adjacent stall with the authority to fire me. In fact, I made sure all stalls were empty. I did so in the usual way, by calling out in a firm voice, "Is that you, Senator?"
The verdict? If a senator is standing, he could conceivably slide a foot underneath the divider. But tapping a foot in this untenable position is the last thing on the potty-goer's mind.
If a senator is seated, with his pinstripe trousers bunched around his ankles, it would be darned near impossible to play footsie with the fellow next door.
Anyway, the detective said the senator reached his hand under the stall in another obvious gesture. The officer reached under the divider to flash his badge. After all parties zipped up, fingerprinting ensued.
Craig was arrested June 11, and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 8. After Roll Call broke the story Monday, the senator said he had done nothing wrong. He said it was a mistake to plead guilty.
Or maybe the mistake was holding himself out as a family-values conservative while trolling for action in public restrooms. The case has revived accusations that the senator, who is up for reelection next year, is a closeted homosexual and a hypocrite.
As if going to the bathroom in an airport isn't risky enough, don't get in the way of Rep. Bob Filner (D., Calif.) at the baggage carousel. The eight-term congressman is charged with assault and battery for an encounter with a United Airlines employee.
Filner was at Dulles Airport Aug. 19 when, in the words of United Airlines, he "experienced a delay in claiming his bag." How utterly unexpected, given the state of air travel these days.
But Filner is not your ordinary passenger. His status conveys certain rights and privileges, including the right to throw a hissy fit. He allegedly pushed past the outstretched arm of a United employee in the baggage claim section and refused to leave a restricted area.
In the eyes of the airline employee, this constituted assault and battery. Which raises the question: In a clash between a congressman and an airline employee, how do you pick someone to root for?
Filner faces a court hearing Oct. 2. He said yesterday that he regrets the incident.
So next time you visit an airport, remember some tips to make your trip go smoothly. Arrive at least two hours before your flight, pack liquids in small containers, and keep your arms and feet to yourself at all times.