Lawmakers Propose Universal No-Fly List to Deal With Unruly Passengers

Those on the proposed list would also lose access to PreCheck and Global Entry.

[File photo: Adobe Stock]

Lawmakers want to create a universal “no-fly” list for passengers who misbehave on commercial airline flights. 

The Protection From Abusive Passenger Act was introduced by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn. The bill is designed to protect "airline crew members, security screening personnel, and passengers."

Each airline currently maintains its no-fly list that they forward to the FAA, which then proposes penalties. However, this leaves loopholes because unruly passengers could book a flight on another airline. Therefore, for an industry-wide no-fly list to work, lawmakers propose that the FAA provide a list of unruly passengers to the TSA. They would be in charge of overseeing the entire program and other means and terms of enforcement.

Additionally, TSA would permanently ban ineligible passengers from “trusted travelers programs,” such as TSA's PreCheck and Global Entry by U.S. Customs, and Border Protection.

"Our message is simple—if you assault a flight crew member and compromise the safety of others aboard the aircraft, you're going to be grounded. Major disturbances in the cabin can compromise the safety of everyone on board a flight," Reed said in a news conference.

How It Would Work

TSA would notify banned fliers about their status and provide guidelines and opportunities for appeal. In the conference, Reed said the bill would serve as a deterrent, ideally, and called on the FAA, TSA, and Department of Justice to reduce these incidents significantly.

"We must put a stop to violence on aircraft," Reed said, in defense of cabin crew, whom he called "the very definition of frontline workers."

How The FAA Deals With Unruly Passengers

Coincidentally, the FAA announced last week that it had proposed as much as $2 million in fines against unruly passengers since the beginning of the year. That includes the biggest penalties to date, $81,950 and $77,272; both stemming from incidents in July last year.

The agency said the fine of $81,950 came from an incident on an American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) flight on July 7 in which a passenger tried to open a cabin door and assaulted flight attendants.

As for the fine of $77,272, one passenger on a Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) flight allegedly also tried to exit the plane midflight and bit another passenger multiple times.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg first gave notice that these fines were coming on The View, where he said, "If you are on an airplane—-don't be a jerk," ahead of the FAA’s announcement.

There has been a significant uptick in the number of unruly passengers on flights, especially since the pandemic, with passengers taking umbrage to mask mandates. For context, the FAA said there were 1,081 incidences of unruly passengers on flights in 2021, compared to only 183 the year before. TSA said of approximately 6,000 reports, more than 66 percent of them related to mask compliance.

[Courtesy: FAA]

As for the fines, it took the FAA until August to propose $1 million in fines in 2021. Meanwhile, it only took four months into 2022 to double that amount.

Swalwell, who was also present at the press conference, said "enough is enough" after echoing survey results from the association of flight attendants that said 85 percent of flight attendants have experienced an air rage incident the past two years.

"When flights are diverted and have to land somewhere outside the flight path, that throws things off—enough is enough," Swalwell said. "If you commit violence in the sky, it may be your last flight."

He also expects that as mask mandates in airports and flights are relaxed, fewer incidences should follow.

Overwhelming Industry Support

In February, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian called for implementing a national no-fly list and essentially laid out the playbook that the new bill suggests.

"I have proposed that any person convicted of a crime because of an onboard disruption be added to a national, comprehensive "no-fly" list of unruly passengers," Bastian said. "While each airline can take the initiative and do its part, only a comprehensive list overseen by the federal government can close the loopholes and prevent disruptors from flying."

Various airlines and crew member unions have thrown their support behind the bill. After the announcement, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest pilot union in the world, thanked the senators and said this would increase safety and security.

Equally, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), the largest flight attendant union also offered support in a statement, in which AFA president Sara Nelson said, "it's about time."

"We've been punched, kicked, spit on, and sexually assaulted. Hold violent passengers accountable, protect aviation workers, and improve aviation safety," Nelson said.

Michael Wildes holds a master’s degree in Logistics & Supply Chain Management, and a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Science, both from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Previously, he worked at the university’s flight department as a Flight Check Airman, Assistant Training Manager, and Quality Assurance Mentor. He holds MEI, CFI & CFII ratings. Follow Michael on Twitter @Captainwildes.

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