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

Delta has recently submitted more than 900 names of allegedly unruly passengers to the Transportation Security Administration so that it can pursue civil penalties. (Steven Senne/AP)
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Delta Air Lines has asked the Justice Department to help set up a national “no-fly” list of unruly passengers that would bar them from boarding any commercial air carrier, amid a surge in “air rage” incidents during the pandemic.

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday, the Atlanta-based company’s chief executive, Edward H. Bastian, said such a list would reduce the number of future incidents involving disruptive passengers. It also would “serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions,” he wrote.

News of Bastian’s letter requesting federal involvement was first reported by Reuters. Delta has previously called for an industry-wide effort to keep passengers from boarding other carriers’ flights after individual airlines have banned them for disruptive behavior.

Delta recently submitted more than 900 names to the Transportation Security Administration so that it could pursue civil penalties, Bastian said. “While such cases represent a small fraction of overall flights, the rate of incidents with unruly passengers on Delta has increased nearly 100 percent since 2019,” he wrote. “We fully support using the full force of the law in these cases.”

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration reported receiving 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, of which 4,290 incidents were mask-related. There were 1,099 investigations of unruly passenger incidents, or a roughly sixfold increase from 2020 and more than seven times figure for 2019.

Lauren Beyer, a senior executive at the Airlines for America trade group, told House lawmakers in September that “there are legal and operational challenges with airlines sharing those lists amongst one another.” She did not appear to provide specifics and could not immediately be reached for comment early Saturday.

As more people start flying again, airlines are seeing a big jump in disruptive behavior and cases of unruly passengers. So why is it happening? (Video: Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Many incidents were related to face coverings, which the Biden administration has mandated that passengers wear aboard commercial aircraft. Delta alone has put 1,900 people on its “no-fly” list for refusing to comply with masking requirements, Bastian wrote.

Last month, a passenger on a Delta flight from Dublin to New York was charged with assaulting and intimidating a crew member. He ignored dozens of requests to mask up, threw a drink can at the head of a fellow passenger, kicked the seat in front of him and refused to sit down and wear a seat belt during landing, according to federal court documents.

And on another Delta flight in December, a woman allegedly punched and spat on a man during dispute about a mask.

Unruly airplane behavior prompted harsher penalties and more enforcement. People are still acting out.

Other major airlines have reported similar incidents. On an American Airlines flight from Miami to London last month, an allegedly “disruptive customer” refused to put on a mask, prompting pilots to turn the plane around an hour after it had left Miami. The passenger was put on the airline’s list of people not allowed to fly pending additional investigation.

On an American flight in January bound for Miami from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a passenger entered the plane’s cockpit during boarding and “caused damage,” according to a company spokeswoman.

In November, Garland ordered federal prosecutors to prioritize investigations into crimes committed on planes. “Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm those employees; they prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel,” he said.