Are you aware of the laws in the destinations you travel to? Do you believe the airline that gets you there has an obligation to advise you about them? And if you do violate them, who’s responsible for the consequences?
The above may sound like questions for a first-year law-school class but they’re actually at the heart of a recently filed lawsuit that suggests that even following the rules can get you in trouble.
The case in question involves Mark Benedetto, president of the University of Sioux Falls, who is suing Delta Air Lines over an incident last fall in which he was arrested at LaGuardia Airport and put in jail for violating New York’s gun laws.
Benedetto followed the rules and informed the airline that he had an unloaded handgun in a locked case in his checked luggage, according to ArgusLeader.com.
However, while he was in compliance with airline and TSA regulations, he was in violation of a New York law that prohibits non-residents from carrying concealed weapons. After a Delta agent called the police, he was arrested and spent a night in jail.
The charges were dropped and his record expunged but Benedetto believes Delta breached its duty by not informing him of the city’s restrictive regulations.
“They go to some effort to advise travelers about rules in some places — gun laws in Great Britain and other places — but omitted one of the most important,” said Steven Sanford, Benedetto’s attorney. “Once they say, ‘Be advised,’ they have a legal obligation to be accurate and complete.”
Delta did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, the case raises issues of both personal and professional responsibility.
“The airlines don’t have an obligation to tell you what the laws are in New York or Washington state or anywhere,” said travel attorney Jeffrey Miller. “If you’re carrying a gun, it’s your job to figure out the laws where you’re going.”
Furthermore, said Miller, the Delta agent was required by law to call the authorities. “If an airline employee knows carrying a gun is illegal in their jurisdiction, they have no choice but to report it,” said Miller. “What the agent did was proper; otherwise, they’d face criminal liability for not reporting it.”
In fact, as long as such regulations remain in conflict, incidents like these are likely to continue to occur, says attorney Mark Bederow, who recently tried a similar case involving a client from Indiana who was arrested while trying to check a handgun on a visit to the Empire State Building. “It ended with a misdemeanor, which was not anything anyone was happy about,” he told msnbc.com.
As for Delta’s role in the current case, Bedorow suggests the carrier may not be legally responsible but could do more to prevent such situations from occurring in the first place.
“I don’t know if airlines are responsible [for explaining the law] but they should make it abundantly clear and less confusing to travelers who are trying to do everything they can to be responsible,” he said. “A lot of these cases that don’t belong in court could be avoided if the airlines provided louder and clearer notices on their websites.”
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.