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Protecting Our Flight Attendants: Why A No-Fly List Is Important

Holding disruptive flight passengers responsible for their behaviour has become increasingly important in the last two years, as the number of violent incidents onboard planes has risen to unprecedented levels.

Just last month, an out-of-control passenger on an American Airlines flight attempted to unlock aircraft doors and charge the flight deck. An air traffic control call was released that showed an American Airlines pilot speaking to ground officials while a passenger attempted to access the cockpit and was subsequently restrained by a crew member using a coffee pot. The Sunday flight from Los Angeles, California to Washington, DC was forced to instead land in Kansas City. Juan Remberto Rivas, 50, was charged with assault, intimidating a flight attendant and interfering in the performance of the flight attendant’s duties.

In recent weeks, the largest flight attendants union in the United States has echoed calls for a national "no-fly" list that would allow disruptive passengers to be recognised and humiliated.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA issued a statement headlined "Violent Passengers Need to Be Grounded," citing recent occurrences in which cabin staff have been "punched, kicked, spit on, and sexually assaulted" in one of the worst bouts of disruptive passenger behaviour in history. The AFA represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines across the US.

The proposed no-fly list, according to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, "is incredibly important" to protect the safety of all flyers.

Nelson contends, “A no-fly list should be on the table because there has to be very severe consequences for those who are acting out,”. She continues, “It’s a relatively small number of people, but they have created incredible harm, incredible risk to the safety of everyone on board, and at the very least a major inconvenience to the rest of the passengers.”

These remarks followed a month of unprecedented passenger disruptions in January. In the week ending January 23, there were 4.9 incidents per 10,000 flights. So far this year, there have been 73 violent outbursts. According to FAA data, this comes after the worst year on record for disruptive passenger occurrences in the United States. Last year, the watchdog reported 5,981 disruptive passenger incidents, with around 72 percent of them stemming from people who refused to wear masks.

This is why Sara Nelson has reaffirmed her support for a no-fly list in a recent statement saying, “Our flights are under attack by a small number of people and it has to stop. Just this past week an out of control passenger tried to open aircraft doors and charge the flight deck […] We need clear and consistent rules with strict consequences for those who cannot respect our collective efforts to keep everyone safe - in the air and on the ground.”

“Our union continues to call for the creation of a centralised list of passengers who may not fly for a period of time after being fined or convicted of a serious incident.”

These calls for a no-fly list are not the first of their kind. Delta Air Lines also wants to bar convicted travellers from flying with any airline in the future. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Delta CEO Ed Bastian noted that the "no-fly" list "will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft."

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