Cruz, other GOP senators oppose no-fly list for convicted unruly passengers

They say it would be wrong to treat those against mask-wearing like terrorists.

February 15, 2022, 4:09 PM

A group of Republican senators sent a letter to the Justice Department on Tuesday to express "strong opposition" to creating a federal no-fly list for unruly passengers, claiming "the majority of recent infractions on airplanes has been in relation to the mask mandate."

Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas were among those who signed a letter opposing Delta Airlines' CEO Ed Bastian's, request earlier this month that the DOJ create a "no-fly" list for passengers convicted of federal offenses relating to on-board disruptions.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Feb. 9, 2022.
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2021 saw a major spike in unruly passengers, with more than 5,981 reported cases, according to the FAA. The agency notes, of those cases, 4290 were mask-related.

"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 GOP senators' letter said. "The [Transportation Security Administration] was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights."

The senators argued airlines could create their own no-fly lists and refuse services to unruly passengers, but that it would be an overreach for the federal government to do so.

Many airlines have already done this, but they do not prevent an offender from boarding another carrier. Delta has previously asked other U.S. airlines to share their internal no-fly lists so that people who endangered their crew can't do so on another airline.

Ed Bastian, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines Inc., speaks during a keynote at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, Jan. 7, 2020.
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"The creation of this list by DOJ would result in a severe restriction on the ability of citizens to fully exercise their constitutional right to engage in interstate transportation," the GOP letter said. "It also raises serious concerns about future unrelated uses and potential expansions of the list based on political pressures."

In Bastian's request to the DOJ, he indicated that he believes banning unruly passengers from all commercial flights will send a strong signal to the flying public that not following crew member instructions comes with severe consequences.

"This action will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft," he wrote.

Unruly passenger incidents onboard Delta planes have increased nearly 100% since 2019, according to Bastian. The airline has placed almost 2,000 people on Delta's internal no-fly list for refusing to wear a mask and has submitted around 1,000 banned names to the TSA to pursue civil penalties.

Other people in the industry have called for support of a no-fly list for unruly passengers. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, responded in a statement to the GOP senators.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers screen passengers at O'Hare International Airport on Nov. 08, 2021, in Chicago.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

"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," Nelson said. "It is irresponsible and political brinkmanship that will put our economic security at risk right along with our lives."

Nelson pushed back against the lawmakers' argument about mask mandates, noting many charges stem from incidents unrelated to mask-wearing.

"Our union continues to call for the creation of a centralized list of passengers who may not fly for a period of time after being fined or convicted of a serious incident. This is not about "masks," and the worst attacks have nothing to do with masks," Nelson said. "You're either for protecting crew and passengers from these attacks or you're against. We need clear and consistent rules with strict consequences for those who cannot respect our collective efforts to keep everyone safe - in the air and on the ground."

Joe DePete, the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, called for the Department of Homeland Security to create a "no-fly list" for unruly passengers.

"There should be zero tolerance for airline passengers who threaten the safety of others," DePete said in a tweet Tuesday.

Delta responded to the Republicans senators in a statement, saying unruly passengers risk the safety of airline staff and other passengers.

"Delta welcomes the interest from Congress as U.S. airlines continue to grapple with an uptick in unruly passengers, putting the safety of airline employees and the flying public at risk," a spokesperson for Delta told ABC News on Tuesday. "At Delta, nothing is more important than ensuring a safe and secure travel experience for our customers and our people."

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