The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Eight Republican senators say they oppose ‘no-fly’ list for disruptive passengers because it would equate mask opponents to ‘terrorists’

A Delta Air Lines plane leaves the gate July 12 at Logan International Airport in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

A group of Republican senators is pushing back against efforts to create a federal “no-fly” list for unruly passengers, arguing that doing so would essentially draw an equivalence between terrorists and opponents of mask mandates.

The eight Republican senators voiced their concerns in a letter Monday to Attorney General Merrick Garland. They noted that, according to Federal Aviation Administration data, the vast majority of reports of unruly passengers have been related to the mandated use of face masks amid the pandemic.

“While we strongly condemn any violence towards airline workers, there is significant uncertainty around the efficacy of this mandate, as highlighted by the CEO of Southwest Airlines during a recent Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing,” the senators wrote. “Creating a federal ‘no-fly’ list for unruly passengers who are skeptical of this mandate would seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland.”

The senators argued that the Transportation Security Administration “was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights.”

The eight Republicans signing the letter are Sens. Cynthia M. Lummis (Wyo.), Mike Lee (Utah), James Lankford (Okla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Rick Scott (Fla.).

Delta Air Lines asks Justice Department to help set up national ‘no-fly’ list of unruly passengers

Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian sent a letter to Garland urging him to support industry efforts to create a national list that would bar those convicted of onboard incidents from travel. Airlines maintain their own lists of passengers who are barred from traveling but don’t share information with other carriers. Bastian said Delta has 1,900 people on its no-fly list.

As recently as last weekend, two American Airlines flights were forced to divert from their destinations because of unruly passengers. In one case, a passenger attempted to open the main passenger door while the aircraft was in flight.

In a separate incident, a Delta Air Lines passenger allegedly tried to open an emergency door in flight last week in the hope that other passengers would record him sharing his views on coronavirus vaccines. The passenger is now facing federal charges.

Unruly passengers lead pilots to divert two American Airlines flights amid discussion over ‘no-fly’ list

Unions representing airline workers have argued that a centralized list is necessary because a passenger banned from one airline can simply book a flight on another carrier.

In a statement Tuesday, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called the eight senators’ letter “irresponsible and political brinkmanship that puts our economic security at risk right along with our lives.”

“Homeland security is homeland security,” said the union’s president, Sara Nelson. “Our flights are under attack by a small number of people and it has to stop. … This is not about ‘masks,’ and the worst attacks have nothing to do with masks. You’re either for protecting crew and passengers from these attacks or you’re against.”

Timothy Bella contributed to this report.

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