Airline industry union leaders call for no-fly list for unruly passengers

Airline worker advocates are encouraging the creation of government and private no-fly lists for unruly passengers amid an increase in violence against flight crew and staff.

Labor leaders told a House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation this week that it wants the federal government to take additional measures to protect workers as incidents involving disruptive passengers continue to rise during the course of the pandemic.

They suggested the TSA keep a no-fly list of individuals convicted of crimes aboard airplanes or be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), flight attendant and transport worker union leaders said. 

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“If there is not a no-fly list … people are going to continue to assault plane crews and gate agents,” said Transport Workers Union of America president John Samuelsen.

The most recent notable airline incident came last weekend when a Southwest Airlines agent was hospitalized after she was assaulted by a passenger. The airline industry has been warning of an unprecedented spike in unruly passengers since February. 

In a normal year, the FAA would see about 100 to 150 cases of unruly passengers per year but in May, it reported upward of 1,300. According to data released by the FAA on Tuesday, 5,240 incidents involving unruly passengers have been reported so far this year. 

Last month, Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Harris's office undergoes difficult reset The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden to announce increased measures for omicron MORE said that a federal no fly list for violent passengers should be considered.

The U.S. government has only one type of federal no-fly list, which prohibits individuals deemed terror threats from boarding airplanes. Airlines may also ban passengers from flying for violating company policy but there is no way to share that information with other airlines.

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Flight attendant union president Sara Nelson has advocated for an additional private no-fly list, suggesting that airlines could flag disruptive passengers and share the data among themselves — even if those passengers don’t meet thresholds for conviction or fines.

“There can be an additional tier of advising and flagging for potential problem passengers where one airline has conducted an internal investigation and determined that they are going to ban that traveler from that particular airline,” Nelson said.

“That information should at least be shared with the other airline so they have the information and can address the issue as passengers are purchasing tickets,” she added.

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents several large carriers, said that they “advocate for increased and expedited prosecution” in criminal cases involving unruly passengers, but declined to say whether they support airlines sharing lists of disruptive passenger names.

“Although the vast majority of passengers comply with all crew instructions, we continue to collaborate with our government partners at the FAA, TSA and other relevant agencies to identify additional actions that can be taken across the aviation ecosystem to prevent and respond to unruly passenger incidents,” an Airlines for America spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. 

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Airlines have been hesitant to sign on to the idea of an industry-administered no fly list. But in a September letter to flight attendants, a vice president at Delta, Kristen Manion Taylor, said the company has “asked other airlines to share their ‘no fly’ list to further protect airline employees across the industry.”

Nelson said airlines should standardize and share problematic passenger lists with each other as a good faith effort to protect flight attendants across all carriers.

“It’s another step that can be added to the list that would not be a no fly required by TSA, but shared information to help make good decisions and keep problems on the ground,” Nelson said.