Incidents have increased as airlines instituted mask mandates
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said adding people who cause disturbances on flights to the No Fly List should be “on the table” as the US responds to a wave of incidents involving air passengers becoming combative or violent with crew on commercial flights.
Speaking with CNN’s Dana Bash on State of the Union, the secretary argued that stricter punishments needed to be considered for unruly passengers who in some cases have attacked flight attendants or other flyers.
“Should there be a federal No Fly List for people who behave like this on flights?” asked Ms Bash, noting a sharp increase in such incidents over the past two years.
“I think that should be on the table,” Mr Buttigieg responded.
He added: “There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment of flight crews in the air or any of the essential workers…from bus drivers to air crews who get people to where they need to be.”
While coming from a Biden administration Cabinet official, Mr Buttigieg’s remarks will not necessarily reflect federal policy; the Department of Homeland Security, specifically the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), operates the No Fly List; those on it are banned from “boarding an aircraft when flying within, to, from and over the United States”.
The list has faced criticism from civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Initially, those on the list were not notified that they were prevented from using air travel in the US, a practice that was altered by legal battles. It is typically used for those suspected of terrorism-related offenses, though one does not have to be charged with a crime to be added to the list.
“Those reforms, however, are not enough. The government still refuses to provide meaningful notice of the reasons our clients are blacklisted, the basis for those reasons, and a hearing before a neutral decision-maker,” says the ACLU of the No Fly List on its website.
Adding those accused of violent or unruly behavior on US flights would significantly expand use of the No Fly List, and likely provoke new court challenges. The nation’s largest flight attendant’s union has called for such punitive measures to be extended, however, citing a massive surge in violent incidents involving unruly passengers and crew members that in many cases have left flight crew personnel with serious injuries.
“This is not a ‘new normal’ we are willing to accept,” Sara Nelson, head of the Association of Flight Attendants, said in a statement. “We know the government, airlines, airports, and all stakeholders can take actions together to keep us safe and flying friendly.”
Incidents of violent or unruly passengers have surged as air travel returned with the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions across the US. Many have pointed to mask mandates, which became a polarised political issue during the pandemic, as a significant driver of the incidents.
A survey of the flight attendants union’s membership found that more than 8 in 10 have experienced unruly or violent passengers within the last year, and a majority did not feel like their reports of such incidents were properly followed up by authorities.