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Bill would create ‘no-fly’ list for unruly passengers

There has been a rise in incidents aboard commercial airplanes, including assaults on crew members

Passengers wearing masks sit in a Boeing 737-800 during an American Airlines flight departing from Los Angeles International Airport. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

Lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday to create a “no-fly” list for unruly passengers, part of an effort to address the rise of violent incidents in airplanes.

Under “The Protection From Abusive Passengers Act” unveiled by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), people convicted of assaulting crew members aboard an aircraft could be placed on a “no-fly” list that would be maintained by the Transportation Security Administration. Those individuals also could be barred from special programs that allow for expedited passenger screening, including TSA’s PreCheck program and Global Entry, which is managed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“We’re here today to stand up for the 99.99999 percent of travelers who’ve had enough of bad behavior,” Reed said. “There should be zero tolerance for violence aboard an airplane. This bill will help reduce incidents of in-flight violence and hold unruly passengers accountable if they break the law.”

Added Swalwell: “Unfortunately, too many of our pilots, flight attendants and crew members are dealing with unacceptable abuse from passengers — everything from kicking to spitting to biting. This behavior is not only inappropriate, but it also puts other crew and passengers at risk.”

Unruly airplane passengers are straining the system for keeping peace in the sky

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of unruly passenger incidents in U.S. aircraft, the majority of which involve conflict over masks. Since February 2021, passengers in commercial aircraft in the United States have been required to wear masks when traveling.

Officials at the TSA said Wednesday that they do not comment on proposed legislation.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration received nearly 6,000 reports of unruly behavior and began investigations into more than 1,100 cases. The Department of Justice also has pledged to prioritize investigations of crimes aboard planes. Even so, such behavior has continued.

Individual airlines maintain lists of passengers who are barred from traveling in planes, but the lists are not shared among carriers. That has led to complaints that passengers who misbehave during one flight can simply fly on another.

Unions representing airline employees, which have pushed for stronger penalties for those who attack crew members, applauded the legislation.

“It’s about time we take real action to keep Flight Attendants and passengers safe in the air,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines. “Since late 2020, the number of incidents of disruptive passengers have exploded. The Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration and Department of Justice have worked to combat this rise. But more needs to be done.”

The bill also has garnered support from the Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Transport Workers Union of America and some airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

“Our members have had to deal with this violent, full moon atmosphere for far too long," said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “The TWU strongly believes this Banned Passenger List will ease some of the pain our members are experiencing and make our skies safer.”

The bill also would create an appeals process for those who think they should not be included on such a list.