Say no to a federal no-fly list
A government-run blacklist of disruptive passengers sounds like the perfect solution to rising air rage — until you consider the consequences
A new federal no-fly list for disruptive passengers sounds like a great idea. If you throw a punch at a flight attendant or storm the flight deck, you shouldn't just be banned from that airline, but from all airlines. For life.
After all, flying is a privilege, not a right.
At least one airline thinks it will work. But is anyone taking the time to think about the consequences? Or the sky-high price some passengers would have to pay for a lifetime ban? And even if we could create such a list, it would be run by the government, which has an uneven record of maintaining sensitive databases like this.
There may be a better way.
What do you think?
How would you fix the problem of unruly passengers? I’d love to get your thoughts. You can scroll all the way to the bottom to leave your comment or just push the red button.
Delta is ready when you are — with a blacklist
Delta Air lines has been lobbying the loudest for a blacklist. Last year, it called on other airlines to share their internal no-fly lists. If you're involved in an incident with one of the carriers, they all ban you. But that apparently didn't work, so Delta then asked the federal government to intervene. (Interesting how the airlines want to keep government out of their business unless it suits their needs.)
It turns out the airline industry is quietly working behind the scenes to develop a federal no-fly list. No one knows how far along they are or how airlines might implement such a list. But we now know that multiple airlines — not just Delta — are on board.
And knowing what I know about the effectiveness of the airline lobby, it's likely they will get what they want, even if they may not want what they get.
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OK, let's think this through
We hosted a riveting debate about passenger blacklists on Friday. An overwhelming majority of readers thought a no-fly list was a good idea — long overdue, according to some of you.
I can't blame you for feeling that way. Like you, I'm getting a little tired of the stories about passengers lashing out at each other or taking a whack at a flight attendant. There's no excuse for it, and there should be serious consequences for that kind of behavior.
But creating such a blacklist raises several questions:
Who places your name on the no-fly list? Is it the airline or the government? Can your seatmate nominate you for being too chatty? What about due process?
What does it mean to be on the no-fly list? No more flights ever? Or just a one-year cooling-off period? Who decides that?
How do you get off the no-fly list? Is there a process to appeal your punishment? Or does the airline just keep you there for the rest of your life?
Once you think about it, you realize that this solution is far from simple. It actually complicates the problem, stepping on a solution that already exists to address unruly passengers.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
Would blacklisting an unruly customer forever be a fitting sentence? In some of the most egregious cases, the answer would seem to be "yes."
But there's a problem with that logic. Imagine if car manufacturers banded together and refused to sell vehicles to anyone who had driven recklessly. What if you're caught shoplifting? Could grocery stores collectively ban you from their businesses?
Some readers already know that air service can be an essential mode of transportation. If you live in Hawaii or Alaska, you can't go anywhere without flying. So you can imagine someone who has one bad flight, gets sent to jail for assaulting a crewmember, and then can't fly again. That person would effectively be grounded for life.
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Would the government screw this up?
The current no-fly list maintained by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center is hardly a model of government efficiency. It has ensnared many of innocent people, including U.S. senators, political activists and even a seven-year-old boy. These kind of mistakes would almost certainly happen with the proposed unruly passenger list, too.
Even if a name wasn't added in error, how can we be sure the person deserves to be there?
Airlines would be responsible for adding the names of unruly passengers, which is a problem. How do you define unruly? I think we can all agree that assaulting another passenger qualifies. But what if you just fail to follow the instructions of a crewmember? Or annoy the flight attendants with incessant requests?
Most flight attendants wield their authority responsibly, but every now and then you come across a crewmember who demands unquestioning obedience from passengers. When the customers don't comply quickly, these problem employees threaten their paying customers and sometimes even call authorities. An argumentative traveler could end up on the no-fly list merely for questioning the orders of a crewmember.
Isn't there a better way?
Actually, there's already a mechanism in place to handle unruly passengers. It's called the criminal justice system. Under federal law, assaulting a crewmember is punishable by up to 20 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. And if a dangerous weapon is used, you can be put away for life. Being in prison is the ultimate no-fly list.
I'm not afraid of creating new regulations, but the no-fly list is unnecessary and duplicative. It would almost certainly affect innocent passengers. It gives a single crewmember the ability to cut off your access to an essential transportation service. There's to way to appeal your inclusion on a blacklist at the moment. And it doesn't take into account any judicial punishment you might have already received, forcing you to pay twice for the same crime.
I'm not the only one who questions the effectiveness of a new government-run no-fly list. In a letter sent to the U.S. Attorney General, five GOP. senators also expressed their strong opposition to a new no-fly list. My friend and fellow consumer advocate Charlie Leocha has also come out against the list, as have many other airline consumer advocates.
Grounding violent air travelers is a good idea, but a no-fly list isn't the way to do it.
How would you handle the epidemic of violence on planes?
What would you do to fix this? Should we just add the names of violent perpetrators to the terrorist watchlist (that would be an extreme fix)? Or should we do nothing?
Then again, the problem may solve itself. The number of unruly passenger incidents has fallen almost every week since the beginning of the year.
The comments are open.
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott turned to the silver screen for inspiration on this illustration. "For this piece, I did my best to channel the film noir style," he says. "I was thinking Dick Tracy meets communist/ totalitarian red, which seems to be in such vogue these days."