Travel is not a privilege. It's a right.
Proposed no-fly and no-stay lists undercut a fundamental Constitutional right. You deserve better.
If you're on board with that proposed nationwide no-fly list of disruptive passengers, maybe you haven't heard about Brittany Farber yet.
Farber was flying from Los Angeles to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, recently when the TSA stopped her and escorted her to a holding cell. They kept her in jail for 13 days before realizing they had the wrong Brittany Farber.
Last week, Farber sued the Los Angeles police department, claiming she suffered extreme stress, anxiety and mental anguish.
Her story is a cautionary tale about no-fly lists. They often ensnare innocent people. As the travel industry ponders expanding its blacklists to hotels, car rentals and vacation rentals, this is the perfect time to remember a simple fact:
Travel is not a privilege. It's a right.
What do you think?
I’d love to get your thoughts on this issue. You can scroll all the way to the bottom to leave your comment or just push the red button.
I'll say it again: Travel is not a privilege. It's a right.
It's one thing to have a company turn away a customer because they've damaged property or injured an employee. It's quite another to have authorities maintain and sanction such a blacklist. Now, the government is saying who can and can't travel. And that's wrong.
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Blacklists are spreading
The no-fly list proposed by Delta Air Lines and being considered by the Department of Transportation is only the beginning. Delta wants to create a database of disruptive passengers operated by the federal government. If you're on the list, you won't be able to fly on any U.S. airline. Privacy activists and consumer advocates have come out against such a list, arguing that it undercuts the criminal justice system and violates passengers' privacy rights.
The lodging industry is also building a no-stay list. It's private for now, run by a company called ResResID. The car rental industry has its do-not-rent lists, and Hertz has been adding renters to it aggressively, according to readers.
Some industries don't even need the government's help, which is even more troubling. Airbnb has such a commanding market share in vacation rentals that it can "deactivate" accounts for anyone with zero accountability. If your account has been disabled, good luck ever renting another vacation home.
Just last week, I heard from someone who was banned by Airbnb. Why? It turns out the company had associated her with another user who was convicted of a crime. How did they associate her with that person? They had both logged into their Airbnb accounts on the same IP address. (After I contacted Airbnb, it lifted its suspension.)
While some customers are innocent, others aren't.
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Of course, there's another side …
I recently heard from a reader on Hilton's no-stay list. Her crime? "Complaining about their crappy service," she says.
When I asked the reader if I could investigate her blacklisting, she refused to allow me to use her name. She says she was afraid she would be held up to public ridicule.
I didn't need to see the rest of her story, but if I had investigated, here's what I probably would have found: This guest was a serial complainer who had verbally abused the staff. After multiple warnings, Hilton told her to take her business elsewhere. If I had published the whole story, she would have indeed been held up to public ridicule — perhaps deservedly so.
I don't have a problem with telling disruptive or dishonest customers to take a hike, whether it's the unlucky points hacker who gets banned by United Airlines or the constant complainer who gets shown the door by Hilton.
But letting the government organize it is deeply troubling and it runs contrary to everything we stand for in a free society.
Government no-fly and no-stay lists are un-American
What if Hilton shares its list with Marriott and IHG, and suddenly my serial complainer can't find lodging anywhere? What if that unfortunate loyalty program scofflaw suddenly can't fly because American, Delta and Southwest also have him on a no-fly list?
If the federal government operates such a database, then law enforcement can also forcibly remove you from a car rental location, hotel or airport. And maybe you’ll end up in a detention cell like Farber.
Freedom of movement is something we take for granted in our society. And some forms of travel, notably airlines, trains and buses, are considered a form of mass transportation, if not also an essential transportation service.
You can already see other travel businesses lining up to create their own blacklists. If Delta gets its way, making a government-sponsored no-fly list, it's just a matter of time before the car rental industry or lodging industry get theirs.
The implications are breathtaking.
Here's the worst-case scenario
Imagine if a name was shared across databases.
So let's say you take your mask off mid-flight to enjoy a cold beverage. The flight attendant orders you to put the mask on between sips, which you think is unreasonable. When you land, law enforcement is waiting with some bad news. You disobeyed a crewmember's instructions; you're on a blacklist.
You try to get a rental car, but wait! You're also on a master do-not-rent list. Fine, you say, you'll take an Uber. But Uber won't pick you up, and neither will Lyft, because you're also on their no-ride lists. Then you get an email from your hotel. It's canceled your reservation because you're on the government no-stay list.
If you say that could never happen, just scroll back to South Africa circa 1994. In that racially segregated society, you needed a permit to travel, and people were barred from certain public transportation and accommodations based on race.
Master blacklists would take us one step closer to having a society where people need passes to travel and rent cars or book hotel rooms.
A master no-travel list would limit freedom of movement
The concept of freedom of movement is so fundamental that our founding fathers believed it didn't have to be articulated. But in case after case in the 19th century, American courts reaffirmed it as a fundamental Constitutional right. A government no-fly list would lead to a master no-travel list that could stop you from renting a car, taking a train or staying in a hotel.
Disruptive passenger behavior is something to be concerned about. But the solution proposed by Delta, even with the safeguards it has promised, would take us down a dangerous road that could effectively end one of our most basic Constitutional rights.
We deserve better.
Your comments, please
I know some of you, dear readers, still favor a government no-fly list. Here's your chance to make your case. Do you also favor extending these lists to hotels or car rentals, so those disruptive passengers can't travel at all? Where do you think it should end?
About the art
"I put myself in the pilot seat to escape reality," explains artist Dustin Elliott. "Right into the world of the surrealist Rene Magritte." Magritte is known for his bowler hat pieces and stunning surreal paintings. "I did my best to reference this man's distinctly odd aesthetic," he adds. "I used mustard yellow blended pastel chalk to give a sense of urgency to this little airplane bird in need of liberation. I chose green and blue hues to cool off the yellows, adding balance to the composition."