We have all been there. You are on a long flight to a foreign country. You are excited as the plane takes off, but then as it begins to level out you come to realise that a fourteen-hour plane trip is long, boring, and tedious (much like being married to me).
You are cramped. The person beside you smells funny and keeps picking their nose. The in-flight entertainment, even in this age of Netflix and high definition porn, consists solely of repeats of Friends (seriously, Ross was the worst character ever created for a television series) and propaganda videos from the tourism department of your destination country.
Thirty minutes into the flight, you turn to your only friend. The drinks cart.
After recovering from the shock of having paid twelve dollars for a small can of beer, you think to yourself: ‘To hell with it, I am on holidays, and it is a long trip. I am going to get a little drunk.’
A few drinks later, two things become clear to you, even as everything else becomes a little hazy.
Firstly, you have spent over one hundred dollars on in-flight alcohol.
Secondly, right now seems like a perfect time to take off your clothes, step into the aisle of the plane, and dance like no one is watching. And while you are at it, you figure you might as well shake your groove thing towards the cockpit of the plane, yelling at the top of your lungs such highly amusing phrases as ‘I am going to take over this aircraft’ and ‘We are all going to die.’
Like I said, we have all been there.
And let’s just assume you are restrained on the airplane, mid-dance, by a surprisingly strong and violent member of the cabin crew, and placed under arrest by the pilot (which, incidentally, the pilot has the power to do while you are on his or her plane). You sober up a little and begin to wonder: ‘Will I be charged under the laws of my home country, the laws of the country I am about to enter, or the laws of the country we are currently flying over?’
If you are not thinking about this sort of stuff, you really should be, as different countries have different levels of punishment for your illegal acts on an aircraft.
If your home country sees your actions as the harmless fun you believe it to be, and will give you a slap on the bottom, but the destination country sees your actions as a crime against humanity and pushes for the death penalty, which country would you prefer charge you with a crime?
This issue of which country has jurisdiction over criminal acts on an international flight is something that has been debated by ultra-cool people since airline travel first, well, took off. These days, over 180 countries have agreed on a set of rules that say which country’s laws apply to crimes committed on an international flight. They wrote it all down in something called the ‘Tokyo Convention’ or more fully and formally the ‘Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft.’
This Convention is a jolly good read. However, for our purposes here and now, I’ll just give you the highlights.
The Convention says that the country in which an aircraft is registered has first claim to prosecute offences committed on board that aircraft. So, if you are on a Qantas plane from Sydney to Los Angeles, and somewhere over the Pacific Ocean you get your willy out and shake it all about, the Australian police have first crack at charging you under our willy-getting-out-and-shaking-about laws, regardless of where the plane was geographically at the time of your shenanigans.
However, because international agreements like this are never, ever that simple, the Convention goes on to say that the destination country can still charge you when you arrive in the destination country if they feel it is appropriate to do so. So, if you are again on that Qantas plane, but this time bound for Germany, and just before landing you get your little frankfurter out and pretend to play a glockenspiel, you may find the German police waiting for you in the arrivals area of the airport, ready to say ‘Guten morgen’ and arrest you under the laws of Germany.
Australia and Germany would then have a fight at a diplomatic level over who gets to charge you with a crime. If Australia agrees, the German police can prosecute you under their laws, which will all be in German with lots of capitals and those double dots above vowels, and you’ll be in deep trouble.
Want my (non-legal) advice? Start reading (or even re-reading) this book when you first sit down in your seat after boarding the plane. You will be sound asleep before you know it, where you will be safe, happy and blissfully ignorant of the siren song of the drinks cart as it trundles past.