Republican senators oppose no-fly list for unruly passengers, saying it would ‘equate them to terrorists’

‘The TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights,’ the eight GOP lawmakers wrote

Nathan Place
New York
Wednesday 16 February 2022 23:16
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Pete Buttigieg suggests DOT may create no-fly list for unruly passengers

Eight Republican senators have spoken out against a proposed “no-fly” list for unruly airline passengers, saying it would unfairly equate mask refusers with terrorists.

The GOP lawmakers voiced their concerns in a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday. In recent weeks, airlines have begged Mr Garland to help create a national, comprehensive list of passengers with a history of assault and other onboard crimes.

Senate Republicans then wrote their own letter, opposing the list.

“Creating a federal ‘no-fly’ list for unruly passengers … would seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland,” the lawmakers wrote. “The TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights.”

The letter was signed by senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Mike Lee, Cynthia Lummis, James Lankford, Kevin Kramer and John Hoeven.

Since the pandemic began, unruly passenger incidents have skyrocketed in American air travel. Most of the altercations, including violent assaults on flight attendants, have stemmed from conflicts over masks, which are required on all US flights. In 2021, there were 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Of those, 4,290 were mask-related.

To combat such incidents, airlines have proposed forming an industry-wide list of violent or disruptive passengers who should no longer be allowed to fly. Each airline already has its own list, but they say combining them would help the companies share information, block customers who disrupted one airline from simply booking another one, and deter more unruly behaviour in the future.

Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, laid out this argument in a letter to Mr Garland on 3 February.

“We are requesting you support our efforts with respect to the much-needed step of putting any person convicted of an on-board disruption on a national, comprehensive, unruly passenger ‘no-fly’ list that would bar that person from traveling on any commercial air carrier,” Mr Bastian wrote to the attorney general. “This action will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft.”

On Monday, the eight Republican senators pushed back, defending the rights of the anti-maskers.

“According to data from the Federal Aviation Administration, the majority of recent infractions on airplanes has been in relation to the mask mandate from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA),” the Republicans wrote. “While we strongly condemn any violence towards airline workers, there is significant uncertainty around the efficacy of this mandate, as highlighted by the CEO of Southwest Airlines during a recent Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing.”

Instead of going to the attorney general for help, they said, the airlines should go to Congress.

“If the airlines seek to have such a list created, they would be best served presenting that request before Congress rather than relying on a loose interpretation of a decades-old statute originally written to combat terrorism,” the Republicans wrote.

In Congress, the 50 Republicans in the Senate could use the filibuster to block any such legislation.

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