While it got no mention in the United States, last week’s doubling of a four-and-a-half year sentence to nine years, six months for a British passenger whose discarded cigarette butt in airplane toilet caused a fire that frightened passengers and crew was front-page news throughout the UK. And judging by the reaction among readers who commented on the story, it was well deserved.
The story revolves about a Monarch flight in August 2015—August is the busiest leisure travel period of the year for UK residents—from Birmingham to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. The flight was 33,000 feet in the air and more than a hundred miles from its destination when a fire broke out after passenger John Cox carelessly tossed a lighted cigarette stub in a toilet bin.
Apparently, Cox, a heavy smoker, had also been drinking heavily at an airport bar prior to takeoff and continued drinking on board the flight. (Subsequent news accounts suggested that he was also distraught over the breakup of his marriage.)
According to multiple news accounts, flames grew and the fire took hold, causing the plane’s pilot to issue a mayday call and prepare for an emergency landing. Panic broke out among the 200 people on board as the jet went into a steep descent 100 miles off the Egyptian coast. Children screamed and some passengers and crew burst into tears, the Court of Appeal in London heard. Fortunately, for those aboard, a passenger who was a fire safety expert helped the flight’s crew extinguish the fire in time.
Cox, of Kidderminster, Worcestershire, and identified as an ex-soldier, was rude and very aggressive when challenged by outraged fellow passengers. However, he admitted reckless arson at Birmingham Court in March and was sentenced to jail for four-and-a-half years. An appeal of the sentence was filed.
Amazingly, the fire set by Cox was the second incident on the same flight. Earlier, crew had managed to put out a smaller blaze and the flight’s captain had issued a warning about the “moronic” conduct of smoking in the toilets.
Last week, a three-judge Court of Appeal seemed to agree. Lady Justice Victoria Sharp, sitting with Mr. Justice Mark Warby and Mrs. Justice Bobbie Cheema-Grubb, said: “To throw a cigarette butt into a wastepaper bin without ensuring it is extinguished would show a high degree of recklessness … The potential for causing disaster here was plain and obvious,” she added. “This offence called for a deterrent sentence.”
NOTE: The Inbound Report will not be published next week; we’ll be in Washington, D.C., covering IPW. Our next publishing date is June 15th.