American security and air transport personnel these days truly do not joke around. Thank goodness I’m not telling you that out of sad personal experience arising out of my recent travels to and within the United States – recall that I advanced the heretical idea in this space not so long ago of displaying a sassy Dilbert cartoon while going through security checks. No, the above conclusion is instead clear from the recent experience of an unfortunate Frenchman – “a rather flippant French jokester,” some would conclude – named Franck Moulet who seemingly took a schtick about suspicious shenanigans on the American Airlines flight he was on rather too far a couple of weeks ago, and was jailed in New York City and put up on charges for his pains. English-language coverage of the incident (at least what I could find using that old reliable stand-by, Google News) is rather sparse. The French press, in contrast, has proved rather more willing to cover the story, as reporting attests to in Le Monde and in Le Figaro (Franck Moulet Freed in Exchange for Confession), and that last article even features a head-shot of the 27-year-old M. Moulet. Just look deeply into those eyes, I say, and then tell me whether this is some sort of comedian.
In exchange for its graphical supplement, the Le Figaro treatment goes into rather less detail about the incident beyond the basic facts. These include that Moulet is a student out of the Bouches-du-Rhône prefecture. (That’s in the south of France; “still a student at age 27?!” you might exclaim, to which the reply would be “Oh yes, that’s by no means uncommon. And German students tend to plunge into the ‘real world’ from academia at an even later stage.”) He was on his way back to France from a winter vacation in the Dominican Republic, on an American Airlines flight by way of JFK airport in New York City, when his somewhat-excessive stay in one of the airplane’s toilets prompted inquiries from a stewardess. Perhaps that simply annoyed him; in any case, in his response he started using the unforgivable “b-word.” (I’ll give you a hint: it has four letters in all, of which the last two are “m” and “b” again.)
Le Monde’s treatment goes into considerably more detail (which is supplemented even more by this earlier article on the incident of January 19). First of all, it seems Moulet was traveling in the company of his girlfriend (his petite amie, or “little female friend”) – not that this makes any appreciable difference, except now it seems that two vacations ended up being ruined instead of just one. His side of the story: The stewardess in question would not cease giving him a funny look after he had tarried somewhat long in the airplane’s toilet, until he finally had to exclaim “You don’t think that I planted a bomb!” The stewardess’ side: As the plane landed, Moulet raised his fist and exclaimed “Oh, shit! The bomb I put in the toilet didn’t work!”
In any event, it was all enough to ensure a special welcoming reception standing by for Moulet at JFK after the plane had taxied to the gate, in the form of federal agents waiting to place him in custody. He then got to spend some time in detention, “in the company,” Le Monde complains, “of prisoners guilty of crimes de sang” (“crimes of blood”), i.e. truly violent offenders. In the end, the solution was found that Moulet would plead guilty to lesser charges and get off with time served and paying a fine of $550, in order just to be able to get on the next available flight and get out of the country and back to France. “In reality, he’s not guilty of anything,” asserted a Monsieur Morice, his lawyer. “But you know that American practice prefers that one plead guilty over there even when one is innocent.” French law is different; you can’t just plead guilty, although that is apparently about to change, at least for lesser crimes (those carrying a penalty of five years in prison or less), and Le Monde brings this fact up to contrast the two systems and, implicitly, to cast doubt on whether that proposed change to French procedure would in fact be a good thing.
Anyway, just wait for the sparks to fly once Moulet is out of the grip of the American authorities. M. Morice made it clear that, once in France, Moulet intends to denounce 1) The conditions under which he was imprisoned by the American authorities; 2) The general way he was treated by the American justice system, and, of course, 3) The conduct of American airlines. But remember, he’ll be doing this in France, not America; somehow, I don’t think too many Frenchmen will care. As for Americans, even if his story had been more widely-reported in the English-language press: Well, especially if the testimony of the stewardess is true as to what he said and the gestures he made, this American is willing to regard him as guilty, and lucky to get off and get back to his home country with a fine. America has had some rather unpleasant experiences with airliners in the New York City area in the not-too-recent past; as I say, American security and air transport personnel these days truly are not ready to joke around, or to have much patience for those that do.