Delta Air Lines has asked the Department of Justice to help create a national no-fly list of people convicted of unruly behavior on an airplane so they can be banned from flying on any commercial airline.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian, in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday, asked for the DOJ’s support in “the much-needed step” of a comprehensive list of “any person convicted of an on-board disruption.” Inclusion on the list should prevent them from commercial air travel, he said.
In the letter, a copy of which was provided to USA TODAY and was first reported on by Reuters, Bastian said such a list “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’s request comes as airline staff have had to deal with a wave of unruly passengers over the past year or so. Unruly passenger cases spiked after the U.S. introduced a mask mandate on airplanes and in airports on Feb. 1, 2021. That mandate has been extended through March 18.
In November, Garland directed U.S. attorneys across the country to swiftly prioritize prosecution of federal crimes that happen on commercial flights amid a historic number of investigations into passenger behavior.
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The rate of unruly passenger incidents has dropped about 50% since record-highs in early 2021, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. So far in 2022, the FAA has gotten 323 reports of unruly passengers – 205 of them related to face masks.
In September 2021, flight attendants urged Congress to do more to reduce the number of air rage incidents. Ahead of that hearing, Delta’s senior vice president of inflight service, Kristen Manion Taylor, sent a memo to flight attendants saying the airline has asked other airlines to share their no-fly lists to further protect employees. “A list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline,” the memo said.
Among recent unruly passenger incidents, last month a man on a Delta Air Lines flight from Ireland to New York refused to wear a mask after being asked to do so many times and mooned a flight attendant, according to a federal complaint. The passenger – who also threw an empty beverage can at another passenger, kicked the seat in front of him, and put a fist up close to the flight captain’s face – was taken into custody upon arrival and has been charged with the felony of intentionally assaulting and intimidating a member of a flight crew.
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Some flights have been recently diverted due to unruly passengers. Two weeks ago, an American Airlines flight from Miami to London returned to the U.S. after a passenger refused to wear a face mask. A day later, a United Airlines flight from New Jersey to Israel turned around after two passengers decided to help themselves to empty business class seats on the half-full flight.
The FAA can impose a fine of up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passengers, and an incident can result in multiple violations. The agency levied more than $1 million in fines against problem passengers in 2021.
In the letter, Bastian noted that while unruly passenger incidents happen on a small fraction of Delta’s overall flights, the rate of incidents on the airline has increased nearly 100% since 2019.
Delta has its own no-fly list of nearly 1,900 people who refused to comply with masking requirements, he said.
There should be “zero tolerance for any behavior that interferes with flight safety,” Bastian said.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson and Bailey Schulz of USA TODAY and The Associated Press
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