A bright red apple has once again become the forbidden fruit.

For close to 10 years flight attendant Jan Flaherty has been flying in and out of San Francisco. And for the same period of time she has been put up in a San Mateo hotel that, to make the room a bit cheerier, leaves an apple and piece of candy on the dresser for the guest.

"I always eat the candy and put the apple in my flight bag for a snack later on," said Flaherty, who lives in Annapolis.

"I was aware of the Medfly quarantine, but the apple became a habit and I swear it just never occurred to me that I was breaking the law."

At San Francisco International Airport on Aug. 10, Flaherty was given a citation for concealing the apple in her flight bag.

Flight crews usually do not have to pass through a scanner, but on the day of the apple bust, a spot check of airline attendants was being conducted. Another Maryland woman, U.S. Department of Agriculture officer Donna Smawley, on temporary duty in California during the Medfly epidemic, was making the check at the airport.

"I was in uniform that day," Smawley said. "I gave out five citations, two for oranges and the others were apples.

"I remember Jan, she was cooperative and I felt a little bad coming down hard, but I had to follow my supervisor's orders."

Flaherty said, "I told her I was sorry and had forgotten, gave her the apple, promised it would never happen again and asked if she could just let me off with a warning."

Earlier, the USDA had sent letters to all airlines stressing that all crew members be warned against carrying fruit.

"There were warnings every 20 minutes on the airport loudspeaker," Smawley said. "There were special, marked trash cans for disposing of fruit."

Said Flaherty: "We come to the airport in a hotel van and walk directly to security. It all takes less than a minute. So I did not hear an announcement . . . I told her I had an apple before she found it and remember saying, 'Whoops, I have an apple.' I explained that it was my first flight since the restriction."

Occasionally, said Smawley, a few airline personnel have been "indignant because they had to go through inspection, some were just plain arrogant. But we're here to protect the farmers. Some of them are already out of business, and wait until you see the cost of fruit, say, a year from now."

The cost of fruit already has gone up for Flaherty. Her first court appearence was on Aug. 24. "The court date coincided with my flight schedule. It was criminal court and there were about 25 people waiting arraignment, most in handcuffs, I'm sure for nastier crimes than being caught with an apple."

Flaherty was charged with breaking California agriculture codes. She faces a $500 fine or six months in prison.

"I will have to hire a lawyer," Flaherty said, "because another flight attendant, who was also caught with an apple, told me she went in without a lawyer and was fined $280 and given six months' probation.

"She had a mug shot and was fingerprinted and now has a California record to contend with for the rest of her life. And I do want to avoid a record at all costs."

She received a postponement of her next court date from Sept. 4 to Oct. 6. Then, the two Maryland women will meet again. "Apples are still my favorite fruit," said Flaherty