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The death of the airport romantic gesture in a post-9/11 world

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Ross declares his love for Rachel in the airport terminal during the Friends' series finale...something that will now land you up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

A 10-year-old boy, watching his first crush pass through airport security on her way out of his life forever, stands for a few seconds before steeling himself and bolting through the line. 

He darts through legs, leaps over baggage, picks up a whole slew of airport police as they chase him through the terminal. And he reaches his crush just in time to get his first kiss. Presumably, he didn't get a defiant trespassing charge and a fine of up to $500. That's because this is the climax of 2003's Christmas-themed rom-com "Love Actually" — and not Newark, New Jersey, where a man who ducked security lines to give his girlfriend a goodbye kiss shut down the terminal, stranded thousands of passengers, and caused flight delays that lasted into the following week.

Fast-forward one year to November 2011, when Johanna Woolfolk of Lynwood, Calif., called up LAX to report a man was planning to smuggle a bomb on an LAX flight to Atlanta. The man? Her husband. The threat? A hoax, and a last ditch effort to save her marriage and force him to stay in L.A. after a fight. Woolfolk reportedly "broke out in tears" after authorities replayed her conversation with the AirTran operator.

"She stated that she was not thinking, she did not want to hurt anyone and did not want to cause harm," wrote FBI Special Agent David Gates in a Nov. 27 affidavit.

We declare this the nail in the coffin of the airport romantic gesture.

It's a tried-and-true rule of the romantic comedy that at least one scene must involve an airport, or a plane, or a plane leaving the airport. You know how it goes: Boy/Girl is leaving, Significant Other must stop them, Significant Other arrives at airport just in time to confess their love/beg forgiveness, thereby saving the relationship and stopping the plane.

This happens in (deep breath) the "Wedding Singer," "Garden State," "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Crocodile Dundee," "Friends," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Almost Famous," and "Liar Liar" — which goes so far as to have a desperate Jim Carrey hijack a portable escalator on the runway and use it to chase the plane.

"Lovesick is fine," said Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer in an interview with BusinessWeek after the New Jersey incident. "But it cannot involve jeopardizing the lives of thousands of people and violating the security regulations."

Spencer was one of two New Jersey lawmakers so perturbed by the Newark airport shutdown that they immediately pushed through legislation to make airport jail-breaking punishable by "a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 18 months, or both." Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, led an inquiry in July into what he described as the Transportation Security Administration's "security deficiencies."

He discovered government statistics that say more than 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports since November 2001 — an average of slightly more than five security breaches a year at each of the 457 commercial airports. About 2,600 breaches involved an individual getting past the checkpoint or exit lane without submitting to all screening and inspections, according to the TSA.

How many of these breaches were inspired by romantic comedies is unknown.

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