WASHINGTON, DC – Nobody wants to experience a nightmare at 30,000 feet, trapped in close quarters aboard an aircraft with a violent passenger who is brawling their way into the ‘air rage passenger hall of shame.’ But sky-high levels of disgraceful violence directed at flight crews and fellow passengers has become rampant. Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is renewing efforts to make air travel safer for the public and crew members while holding the guilty accountable by grounding unruly passengers.
Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) re-introduced the bipartisan and bicameral Protection from Abusive Passengers Act. This legislation is designed to improve air travel safety by holding unruly passengers accountable if they assault a crewmember or fellow passenger.
Despite the mask mandate on planes ending in April of last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigated 831 unruly-passenger incidents in 2022, up from 146 just four years ago.
The FAA, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and U.S. Department of Justice are working together to deter and punish violent incidents aboard an aircraft, but clearly the existing range of civil and criminal penalties have not stymied the recent spike.
The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would provide another important tool to crack down on offenders convicted of physical or sexual assault or intimidation of the flight crew or fellow passengers aboard an aircraft. Under the proposed legislation, TSA would create and manage a program that bars passengers who are fined or convicted of physical assault or intimidation and abuse from flying on commercial aircrafts. The bipartisan proposal ensures fairness, process transparency, and due process – notice will be provided to banned individuals and there will be set guidelines for appeal and removal from the list. The bill also provides TSA flexibility in determining how long the individual may be barred from flying based on the severity of the offense.
The lawmakers say the enhanced penalty will serve as a strong deterrent and is needed to improve the safety of frontline aviation crews, attendants, and passengers to minimize disruptions to the national aviation system and restore confidence in air travel.
“Mask mandates have ended. Still, the epidemic of air rage continues and this elevated level of in-flight violence has to stop. We must do more to protect employees and the travelling public. The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would require TSA to develop a no-fly list for individuals who engage in dangerous behavior on a plane or at a security checkpoint. It ensures the list will be fair, transparent, and includes an opportunity for appeal. There should be zero tolerance for any violent behavior that affects flight safety and this bipartisan bill will help us get there,” said Senator Jack Reed.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you work—everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and with dignity,” said Congressman Eric Swalwell. “Unfortunately, too many of our pilots, flight attendants, and crew members are dealing with unacceptable abuse from passengers—everything from kicking to spitting to biting. Our bill will ground the handful of bad actors who continue to travel while protecting airline employees and the traveling public.”
“Protecting our pilots, flight crews, passengers, and their families from violence and danger is paramount to ensuring the safety of the skies.” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. “Threats, physical abuse, or harassment in any workplace is flatly unacceptable, and that standard should not be any different for our airlines employees. This bipartisan legislation would create a system-wide no-fly list for abusive passengers to hold offenders accountable, minimize potential disruptions, and keep air travel safe for all Americans.”
Standing in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol today, several flight attendants, who are extensively trained in de-escalation and safety techniques, shared their personal experiences of being assaulted while on the job, and discussed the need for a national ‘no-fly list.’
The legislation has been endorsed by airline industry leaders and labor organizations, including: Air Line Pilots Association; Association of Flight Attendants, CWA; Association of Professional Flight Attendants; Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Communications Workers of America (CWA); American Airlines; Delta Air Lines; and Southwest Airlines.
“Flight attendants are the essential workers of our skies and critical to ensuring passengers get to their destination safely. But far too often, flight attendants have to worry about their own safety,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “Assaults on our airline workers are completely unacceptable, and both airlines and regulators need to act to put an end to this crisis. That’s why the TWU stands in full support of the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act, and why we will continue to spread awareness and fight for policies that hold abusive passengers accountable through our Assault Won’t Fly campaign.”
“We know that frontline aviation workers are charged with safely moving passengers across the nation and performing critical jobs that can be challenging even in the best circumstances. The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act is necessary to reduce violent attacks on workers and ensure the safety of everyone onboard the aircraft and in the airport terminal. I commend Representatives Swalwell and Fitzpatrick, along with Senator Reed, for taking the necessary action to prevent assaults on aviation workers and allow them to focus on their jobs without fear,” said AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Greg Regan.
Summary: Protection from Abusive Passengers Act
Under the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would create and manage a program that bars passengers who are fined or convicted of serious physical violence or intimidation from flying on commercial aircraft.
Transparency and notice will be provided to banned individuals, including guidelines for removal and opportunities for appeal. The bill would also permanently ban abusive passengers from participating in the TSA PreCheck or Customs’ Global Entry programs.
Specifically, the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would require the TSA to define the policies and procedures for the banned fliers list (BFL), including:
- A process for receiving abusive passenger referrals from the Federal Aviation Administration or the Department of Justice;
- How the BFL will be maintained;
- Specific guidelines and considerations for removing an individual from the BFL;
- Procedures for expeditious removal of the erroneous additions;
- Procedures for appeal and removal for non-erroneous additions; and
- A process for providing advanced written notice of individual rights and program requirements, rules, and procedures for all individuals referred to the BFL, within five days.
The bill also directs the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to report to Congress every three years on any disparities based on race or ethnicity in the treatment of appeals for removal.
Under the bill, an “abusive passenger” is a person who was either:
- Convicted of:
- Physically or sexually assaulting a commercial aircraft crewmember;
- Threatening to physically or sexually assault a commercial aircraft crewmember;
- Engaging in an action that poses an imminent threat to the safety of the aircraft or other individuals on the aircraft;
- Assaulting a Federal airport or air carrier employee who has security duties within an airport; or
- Other federal assaults, threats, or intimidation offenses against an aircraft crewmember while in flight.
- Assessed a civil penalty for:
- Tampering or interfering with, compromising, modifying, or attempting to circumvent any security system, measure, or procedure on an aircraft in flight; or
- Causing a person to tamper or interfere with, compromise, modify, or attempt to circumvent any security system, measure, or procedure on an aircraft in flight.