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Unruly Passengers Are Escaping Justice. Why A No-Fly List Would Fix That

Could A No-Fly List Be Introduced Soon?

This year, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian sent a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland reiterating his call for the Justice Department to prosecute unruly passengers and place them on a no-fly list. According to Bastian, it would be a "much-needed step" towards tackling an increase in violence onboard flights that has threatened flight safety during the coronavirus outbreak. He has also said in reference to introducing a no-fly list that, “this action will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft.” To date, the prospect of a no-fly list has gained significant traction in the United States, and if more passengers continue to pose difficulties, the US government may be forced to take further action.

In late October 2021, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated that a federal no-fly list for aggressive aircraft passengers "should be on the table.” Later that year, this narrative was reinforced by President Biden after he instructed the Justice Department to address rising violence on airplanes as some passengers resistant to mask requirements have threatened airline staff.

Why Is A No-Fly List Becoming More Likely?

For months, the nation's leading airlines have been working with the Biden administration to develop a statewide no-fly list that would bar the worst of unruly customers from flying on commercial aircraft, as attacks on flight attendants, airport gate officials, and other passengers have increased. However, as the number of distasteful passengers increase, many of their violations seemingly go unpunished. According to FAA data, 5,891 rowdy passengers were reported to the agency last year, including 4,290 – or 73% – for failing to wear a mask in the airport and onboard planes. However, just 350 of them got penalties, which the FAA committed to use more often to tighten down on similar events. Due to the breadth of incidents the FAA simply does not have the staff to pursue every case of mask violators, other than having the airlines remove them from a flight.

One Extreme Case

On February 13th, an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. had to be completely diverted to Kansas City due to a disruptive passenger. Eye witnesses have reported that a man tried to break into the cockpit and also attempted to open the cabin door during the flight. A flight attendant apparently hit the disruptive man over the head with a coffee pot, and several passengers rushed to help hold the man down. Interfering with the flight crew is a criminal offence, which meant the man was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Why Has This Not Happened Already?

So far, the most difficult challenge has been establishing consistent criteria for whether someone should be put on the list. Other problematic concerns include how to prevent inevitable incidents of mistaken identity, which government agency would oversee, and whether violators should face a lifetime ban on air travel or not. "It's one thing to say you can't fly on one airline," said Jeffrey Price, an aviation security expert, "It's another thing to say you can't fly on any airline."

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