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Congress Wants a TSA No-Fly List Just for Unruly Passengers: "Epidemic of Air Rage"

The new law would allow the agency to keep potentially risky travelers off flights.

It's no secret that safety is everyone's top priority on a flight. Not only does each airline have its own set of rules, there are also Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations set by the federal government that dictate everything from how security checkpoints function to what items you can bring on board. Neglecting or breaking any of these protocols can land travelers in serious hot water from being fined to even getting arrested in some cases. But now, Congress is proposing the creation of a new TSA no-fly list just for passengers who become unruly on planes. Read on to see how lawmakers are trying to combat the recent "epidemic of air rage."

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Lawmakers are proposing a new type of no-fly list that would keep unruly passengers off flights.

united states capitol building
Shutterstock/W. Scott McGill

On March 29, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives said they were introducing new legislation that would effectively allow the TSA to add passengers to a no-fly list for becoming unruly during a flight. If passed, The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would allow the federal agency to ban anyone fined or convicted of assaulting or interfering with airline crew from boarding a commercial flight, The Washington Post reports.

The proposed enforcement program would be run separately from the no-fly list operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which bars anyone who is a known or suspected terrorist from boarding a plane. It would also expand the current informal system in which airlines can only ban a problematic passenger from their own flights and not from another carrier.

"Passengers must get onboard and follow the rules and not commit acts of violence," Senator Jack Reed said during a press conference announcing the new legislation, per USA Today. "It would grant the TSA flexibility to develop this no-fly list and ensure it is fair, transparent, and includes due process and the opportunity for appeal."

In-flight incidents are still high compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Passengers on the airplane.

The proposed legislation comes as in-flight incidents have drastically increased in recent years. Federal mask mandates that were in place during the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with a record-high number of abusive and unruly passengers in 2021. And while incidents have decreased somewhat slightly since last year, the number of cases under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still 470 percent higher than in 2019, Axios reports.

"Mask mandates have ended. Still, the epidemic of air rage continues and this elevated level of in-flight violence has to stop," Reed said in his statement. "We must do more to protect employees and the traveling public."

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The bill appears to have plenty of support from the airline industry.

A flight attendant walking down the aisle of a plane checking on passengers

Besides creating turmoil on board, encounters with unruly or violent passengers have resulted in serious injuries for airline crew members. To help make their case, representatives from three major airlines joined lawmakers during their announcement to describe their experiences.

In one incident, a flight attendant for American Airlines described an encounter in which a passenger hurled insults at him before spitting in his face and punching him, resulting in a black eye. And Southwest flight attendant Jennifer Vitalo told reporters how she was so severely attacked on a plane that she was hospitalized for more than a week and didn't return to her job for over a year, The Post reports.

"We deserve to go to work and to come home in the same shape that we were in when we got there," Vitalo said. "So this legislation helps us to be able to do just that."

A similar bill didn't make it through Congress last year.

Security guard with face mask in front of airplane

This isn't the first time lawmakers and the airline industry have tried to ratchet up consequences for unruly or abusive behavior on flights. Last year, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that the Department of Justice (DOJ) create a no-fly list for problematic passengers, USA Today reported. At the time, he wrote that the program "will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft."

Months later, the same group of bipartisan lawmakers involved in the latest legislation proposed a similar law that would "stiffen penalties" for passengers convicted of assaulting flight crew. However, the bill was not voted into law, The Post reports.

While the new legislation would provide ground for the first industry-wide flight bans, there are still consequences for acting up on an airplane. Currently, FAA fines for passenger violations can go as high as $37,000 per infraction, Axios reports.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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