Starting in January 2021, people who traveled via commercial airline or even entered an airport were required to wear a mask. That rule changed on April 18 when a federal judge in Florida struck down the national mask mandate covering commercial planes and other forms of public transportation.
When masks were required on planes, reports surfaced across the country of passengers refusing to wear the masks, as well as abusing or being belligerent to other passengers and airline staff.
For instance, in January 2021, 14 people were banned from Alaska Airlines for refusing to wear a mask after they were witnessed harassing flight staff. In May 2021, a flight attendant on a plane bound for San Diego had two of her front teeth knocked out by a passenger who refused to comply with mask mandates.
In February 2022, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian penned a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for the names of unruly passengers to be added to a no-fly list. According to reports from September 2021, Delta had more than 1,600 banned passengers on their banned passenger list.
But, is there a national database, like the no-fly list, for unruly passengers? That was a popular question being asked on Google.
Is there a federal no-fly list containing unruly passengers?
No, there is not a federal no-fly list for unruly passengers. But a bill was recently introduced in the Senate that would change that.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the only federal no-fly list that currently exists contains the identity of known or suspected terrorists. The database is maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.
Individuals on that no-fly list are prevented from boarding an aircraft when flying within, to, from and over the United States, the TSA website says.
But several U.S. senators are hoping to create an alternative no-fly list that focuses on unruly and abusive passengers. On April 6, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act in the Senate.
The bill would protect airline crew members, security screening personnel and passengers by banning abusive passengers from commercial aircraft flights.
“The goal of our bill is to send a clear signal that individuals who engage in serious abusive or violent behavior on an aircraft or at an airport security checkpoint will be banned from flying. Since 2020, we have seen an extraordinary increase in the number of cases of violence and abuse against crewmembers and airline passengers,” Reed said when introducing the bill.
He said in 2021, the FAA received 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, which led to 350 law enforcement actions and $5 million in fines. He also described instances where flight attendants suffered serious injuries at the hands of passengers.
“Such actions in any setting would be deplorable and reprehensible, but on an airplane, such behavior can also represent a real threat to all passengers. Clearly, the existing regime of civil and criminal penalties has not been enough to deter the upsurge in cases. We need to send a signal that such types of behavior will not be tolerated,” Reed said.
The TSA would manage the program to ensure those passengers would be barred from flying, he said. The bill would also permanently ban abusive passengers from participating in the TSA PreCheck or Customs’ Global Entry programs.
Even though there is no current national no-fly list specifically for unruly passengers, individual airlines can ban an individual from flying on their planes.
United Airlines, for instance, has a banned passenger list. A United spokesperson told VERIFY they may “allow some customers previously banned for failing to comply with mask-related rules to fly United again - after ensuring their commitment to follow all crewmember instructions on board.”
In a statement to VERIFY from Delta Air Lines, the airline said it would restore flight privileges for customers who were previously banned for mask non-compliance after a case review and only if the customer “demonstrates an understanding of their expected behavior when flying with us.”
“Any further disregard for the policies that keep us all safe will result in placement on Delta's permanent no-fly list. Customers who demonstrated egregious behavior and are already on the permanent no-fly list remain barred from flying with Delta,” the statement said.
Representatives from American Airlines and Southwest Airlines did not respond to VERIFY’s request for comment at the time of publication.
On April 20, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it would make its zero-tolerance policy against unruly passengers permanent.
The FAA implemented the policy on Jan. 13, 2021, after seeing an increase in unruly passenger incidents stemming from COVID-19 mandates, including the mask policy on planes. Under the policy, the FAA issues fines to passengers for unruly behavior, but it does not add their name to a no-fly list.