Delta confirms it asked DOJ to create a new national unruly passenger no-fly list

Feb 5, 2022

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Delta Air Lines is leading the charge when it comes to banning unruly and sometimes violent passengers. Delta confirmed to TPG that Chief Executive Ed Bastian wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland asking the Justice Department to help crack down on misbehaving passengers.

His ask? He wants flyers who attack crew on planes or disrupt flights to be put on a “no-fly” list.

You may remember, Delta was behind an idea during the COVID-19 pandemic for airlines to create their own version of the national no-fly list that has been used mostly to keep potential terrorists off planes.

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Bastian wanted the airlines to share data on bad passengers. The idea ultimately was scrapped amidst opposition from other airlines and fears over civil rights lawsuits.

Now, Bastian has written a new letter to the Justice Department saying a proposed unruly passenger no-fly list maintained by the government instead of airlines, “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 CEO letter to DOJ. (Screenshot courtesy Delta Air Lines)

Delta CEO letter to DOJ. (Screenshot courtesy Delta Air Lines)

“Delta’s suggestion isn’t just a good idea, it’s a damned good idea,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research. He told TPG, “The government should have acted to create an industry-wide list of unruly passengers a long time ago.”

“Any disruption or act of violence on our planes and at our airport’s warrants full and public prosecution of the offenders, with zero tolerance for any behavior that interferes with flight safety,” wrote Bastian in the letter.

Related: Congress gets an earful on unruly flyer incidents aboard US flights

So far, no comment from the Department of Justice.

“Ed Bastian is fed up. Flight crews are fed up,” said Tim Jue, a San Francisco-based reporter covering airlines and travel. “These outbursts are disruptive, scary, expensive, and put airline staff in a precarious position they did not sign up for when they took the job,” Jue continued, “2021 was an ugly year for airline passenger behavior and we heard and saw some shocking incidents. The airlines fear 2022 might be a continuation of last year’s troubling trend.”

Delta’s idea is not without its challenges, according to Harteveldt, “There are legal issues about how an industry-wide list … needs to be created so that it not only complies with all laws, but that airlines don’t misuse the data.” Harteveldt brought up the idea of a flight attendant on a power trip potentially using the list as a threat against passengers for no legitimate reason.

“Another challenge is that passengers who are banned will need to have some type of redress process because if they feel the ban is unfair, they should have the opportunity to defend themselves,” he added. “The redress process for this potential list could potentially follow a similar framework that is used for passengers who believe they have been wrongly added to the no-fly terrorist list.”

The FAA has been cracking down on misbehaving passengers with a “zero-tolerance” policy for unruly behavior imposing increasingly expensive fines and even urging the DOJ to prosecute scofflaws for federal crimes. It appears to be working.

Related: FAA reaches $1 million benchmark in fines issued to unruly passengers

2021 was the worst year on record for unruly passengers according to the FAA, which logged 5,981 unruly passenger reports including 4,290 mask-related incidents. The FAA introduced its Zero-Tolerance policy on Jan. 13, 2021.

(Image courtesy of the FAA)

Indeed, the Department of Justice previously said it would begin more rigorous prosecution of air rage incidents,

U.S. Attorney General Garland directed staff at the Department of Justice to prioritize the prosecution of federal crimes committed on planes and at airports back in November. 

That move gave law enforcement more power and resources to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in the air.

The news comes as two passengers were kicked off a Delta flight just this week in Ft. Lauderdale according to NBC Miami.

“Delta has zero-tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and on our flights, as nothing is more important than the safety of our customers and flight crews,” the airline said in a statement to local media.

There has been a dramatic increase in unruly passenger incidents since the COVID-19 pandemic started, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Harteveldt said, “What I like about the concept of an industry-wide no-fly list for unruly passengers is that maybe the threat of being banned from all airlines would be enough to calm the unruly passenger down and stop them from taking their actions to a point of no return.”

Featured image of a Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-900 aircraft as seen on final approach July 2, 2020 landing at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS)  by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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