News and Analysis

Delta Airlines Wants To Put Maskless Passengers Deemed ‘Unruly’ On A National ‘No-Fly List’

The vast majority of "unruly passenger incidents" reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were over customers refusing to wear face masks.

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UNITED STATES - JULY 20: A Delta Air Lines plane taxis toward a gate between other Delta planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, U.S., on Monday, July 20, 2009. Delta Air Lines Inc., based in Atlanta since 1941, is promoting itself as New York city's "hometown carrier" with mojitos in Manhattan and sponsorships of the Yankees and Mets baseball teams. (Photo by
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Delta Airlines is reportedly pushing the airline industry to agree to put thousands of customers on a “no-fly list” for being “unruly” — a designation that appears to be most often applied to passengers who refuse to wear face masks.

“Delta Air Lines wants to create a national ‘no-fly’ list of banned passengers to prevent unruly behaviour onboard aircraft,” Business Insider reported Friday. “The carrier has pushed other US airlines to share their lists of passengers who have been banned during the pandemic for disruptive behaviour, according to a memo to flight attendants on Wednesday.”

A statement about the memo, which is now on Delta’s website, claims that Delta is engaging other airlines in the effort in order to create a “culture of safety for every employee” and to protect passengers, and brags that Delta has 1,600 individual “unruly” passengers on its proprietary “no-fly list” — a list that is apparently privately held and is not subject to an appeals process.

Delta also notes that the memo went out to employees on the “same day” that the House took up a bill aimed at increasing federal power to punish passengers who make trouble onboard planes or in airports. They also suggest that they are pressuring other airlines to join an industry-wide “no-fly” list effort so as to prevent passengers banned from Delta from seeking out other travel options.

At Delta, we now have more than 1,600 people on our “no fly” list, and we’ve submitted more than 600 banned names to the FAA in 2021 as part of their Special Emphasis Enforcement Program. We’ve also asked other airlines to share their “no fly” list to further protect airline employees across the industry – something we know is top of mind for employees as well. A list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline.

The memos were sent the same day the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure held a hearing titled, “Disruption in the Skies: The Surge in Air Rage and its Effects on Workers, Airlines, and Airports.” Airlines for America (A4A), which represents Delta, urged stronger actions from federal agencies and authorities.

According to Business Insider, the vast majority of “unruly passenger incidents” reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were over customers refusing to wear face masks.

“The FAA recorded 4,385 unruly passenger incidents between January and September 2021, according to the agency’s website. More than 3,000 of those reports were related to passengers refusing to wear a mask, it says. It has initiated nearly 800 investigations — far more than any other year since 1995, it says.”

Those incidents related to masking, Business Insider reported earlier this year, do not need to be violent to be considered the result of an “unruly passenger.” Because most airlines require masks on board, a passenger could potentially run afoul of the rule and be removed from a flight if flight attendants simply “suspect that [the passenger is] intentionally and repeatedly running afoul of mask policies.”

“Airlines may also ban passengers that repeatedly disobey flight attendant instructions to mask up,” the outlet noted.

At least in part, this seems to indicate that Delta Airlines is looking for an industry-wide ban on customers who refuse to wear masks on planes, though it is not clear that the science supports universal masking mandates on modes of transportation, that the airlines have uniform COVID-19 restrictions, or that airlines have the authority to lock Americans out of air travel altogether.

There are, in fact, potential legal issues with an entire industry locking out customers, members of the House Transportation Committee pointed out Thursday, but Oregon Democrat Rep. Peter DeFazio had an ever stranger solution: allowing the FAA to create a “no-fly” list of “unruly passengers,” many of whom are guilty only of defying airlines’ COVID-19 rules.

An FAA no-fly list for unruly passengers is particularly fraught, especially given the existing no-fly list, which is supposed to include individuals suspected of being tied to terrorism.

The “no-fly list,” which is separate from the “terrorist watch list” had, at last count, around 45,000 names, but individuals are not informed when they are placed on the federal “no-fly list,” and the complicated appeals process requires passengers to first be denied boarding, then initiate an inquiry, then petition the government for redress.

The Department of Justice also noted that there is already an enforcement schematic in place for individuals who are alleged to have interfered with flight crew.

“A Justice Department spokesman said that interference with flight crew members was a federal offense that can result in a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison,” Business Insider noted.

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