MarketWatch talked to passengers on flights with unruly travelers

That’s what Delta Air Lines

Chief Executive Officer Edward H. Bastian recently proposed. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland sent at the beginning of February, he called for the creation of a national “no-fly” list that would bar unruly passengers from traveling on any commercial air carrier.

But Bastian’s proposal is already meeting with resistance — specifically, from a group of Republican U.S. senators who argue that such a “no-fly” policy would make those questioning the Transportation Security Administration’s COVID-related mask mandate the equivalent of known or suspected terrorists who are banned from travel. The senators also contend that such a policy would have the TSA stepping well beyond its intended bounds.

“The TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights,” wrote the senators in a letter to Garland sent earlier this week. Among the prominent senators who signed the letter are Ted Cruz of Texas, and Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida.

The “no-fly” list, which has been discussed even prior to Bastian’s letter, comes especially in response to the wave of incidents since 2020 involving unruly passengers, with many situations arising from those who refuse to comply with the mask mandate. This year alone, the Federal Aviation Administration reports that 394 incidents took place through Feb. 8, with 255 of those related to face-mask issues.

A “no-fly” list of unruly passengers “will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft.”

— Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Officer Edward H. Bastian

But as the numbers suggest, incidents also stem from other causes. One recent example: A passenger aboard a Washington, D.C.-bound American Airlines

flight from Los Angeles this past Sunday had what was described as a “paranoia-fueled fit” and tried to open the plane’s door. He was eventually subdued, with a flight attending hitting him on the head with a coffee pot and other passengers lending assistance.

The flight was rerouted to Kansas City, Mo., because of the disturbance. The passenger, identified by law-enforcement officials as Juan Remberto Rivas, was taken into custody and charged with assaulting and intimidating a flight attendant.

Mouaz Moustafa, a passenger aboard the flight, told MarketWatch that it was a terrifying situation that could have easily resulted in a very different ending. “It was this feeling of impending death,” he said.

Moustafa, who is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Syrian Emergency Task Force, said he generally supports the idea of a “no-fly” list for unruly passengers, so long as the list is applied fairly and judiciously.

“People who present a danger should not be allowed” to board a plane, Moustafa said, adding that there’s often little that can be done to quell a dangerous situation in midair. “There are no second chances,” he said.

“The TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights.”

— A group of Republican U.S. Senators, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, opposed to a “no-fly” list for unruly passengers

Joanne Jordan, a food-industry professional, was aboard a Philadelphia-bound American Airlines flight from Chicago a few months ago in which a male passenger refused to wear a mask correctly and caused problems for the flight crew. She described it as a scary situation — “We were glad when we landed, so we could get far away from him,” she said — and added that she would support a “no-fly” list for unruly passengers.

“I think it’s a great way to protect flight attendants and keep passengers happy,” she said.

Still, there are others beyond those Republican senators who remain opposed to the idea.

Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights, which bills itself as the largest non-profit airline consumer organization, said such a list would be a “great overreach.” He noted that many passengers aren’t following the mask mandate — in some cases for what he said are legitimate medical reasons.

Meanwhile, Hudson said passengers who have been convicted of serious crimes can be allowed to fly without anyone suggesting otherwise. “That’s an irony,” he said.

Ultimately, even if airlines and others push for a “no-fly” list for unruly passengers, it may be something difficult for federal authorities to put into place, said David Slotnick, who reports on the aviation industry for The Points Guy travel website. Slotnick said such a list would require the federal government establishing a complex set of criteria. Even then, the list could face legal challenges, he added.

Slotnick said an alternative might be for the airlines to share the “no-fly” lists they have individually established with each other. In effect, that would create a national registry without having to involve the federal government, he said.

Delta CEO Bastian noted in his letter to Attorney General Garland that his company already has a “no-fly” list of 1,900 people who have refused to comply with masking requirements. But Bastian said a federal “no-fly” list is nevertheless necessary.

It “will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft,” Bastian wrote.

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