A group of eight GOP senators are opposing the creation of a federal no-fly list for “unruly passengers” because it would affect those opposed to mask mandates.
The Republicans wrote a letter to the Justice Department this week citing their “strong opposition” to putting passengers convicted of unruly behavior on an aircraft on a federal no-fly list. “Creating a federal ‘no-fly’ list for unruly passengers who are skeptical of this mandate would seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland,” the lawmakers wrote.
The number of reports of unruly passengers has multiplied during the pandemic, often creating unsafe conditions for travelers and airline employees. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the vast majority of these reports in 2021 were mask-related incidents. Of 5,981 reports, 4,290 of them were mask-related — likely due to passengers who refused to wear a mask on a flight.
Signatories of the letter included Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rick Scott (R-Florida).
Delta requested the creation of a federal no-fly list earlier this month to help send a message to anti-mask passengers, potentially preventing future incidents of disruptive behaviors or assaults. Airlines already maintain their own no-fly lists; Delta CEO Ed Bastian says that the company’s list has 1,900 people on it.
Last week, anti-mask passengers caused the diversion of two American Airline flights, and a Delta passenger had to be physically restrained after attempting to open the emergency door while in flight, endangering the lives of everyone on board. The unruly passenger said he tried to open the door to provoke other passengers to film him spouting his views on COVID vaccines.
A survey released by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA in July of last year found that 85 percent of flight attendants had dealt with unruly passengers in 2021, with more than half experiencing at least five incidents. One in five flight attendants had experienced a “physical incident.”
The flight attendant’s union has also called for putting such passengers on a federal no-fly list because passengers could simply book a flight on a different airline after being banned. The union criticized the Republicans’ letter.
“Get serious. Homeland security is homeland security. Our flights are under attack by a small number of people and it has to stop,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, in a statement.
“We’ve been punched, kicked, spit on, and sexually assaulted. This puts everyone at risk and disrupts the safety of flight, which is never acceptable and every single one of the Senators who signed this letter knows full well what is at stake if we leave a gap in aviation safety and security. It is irresponsible and political brinkmanship that will put our economic security at risk right along with our lives.”
However, human rights groups have raised legitimate concerns about the creation of such lists, as they have historically led to racial profiling and religious discrimination with the supposed goal of preventing terrorism. During the Obama administration, over 47,000 people were on the terrorist no-fly list, despite that many added to government watchlists had “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” Moreover, the list was secretive, meaning that citizens wouldn’t even know they were on the list until they were prevented from flying.