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US lawmakers make new push to bar convicted violent passengers from flights


Travelers at Baltimore Washington International airport deal with the impact of Southwest Airlines canceling more than 12,000 flights around the Christmas holiday weekend across the country and in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. December 27, 2022.  REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday will make a new push for legislation to bar passengers fined or convicted of serious physical violence from commercial flights after a series of recent high-profile incidents.

Three lawmakers said on Monday they plan to reintroduce the “Protection from Abusive Passengers Act,” saying the enhanced penalty is a strong deterrent and needed to improve aviation worker and passenger safety and “minimize disruptions to the national aviation system and restore confidence in air travel.”

Senator Jack Reed and Representative Eric Swalwell, both Democrats, and Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick are introducing the bill after a series of incidents aboard airplanes.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union opposed creating a no-fly list for unruly passengers, saying the U.S. government “has a terrible record of treating people fairly with regard to the existing no-fly list and other watch lists that are aimed at alleged terrorists.”

During the early stages of the pandemic, much of the passenger anger was sparked by the federal government mask mandate. Despite the end of the airplane mask mandate in April 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigated 831 unruly passenger incidents in 2022, up from 146 in 2019, but down from 1,099 in 2021, the lawmakers noted.

The total number of incidents reported onboard has fallen sharply and returned to pre-COVID levels.

The FAA received 2,456 unruly passenger reports in 2022 and proposed $8.4 million in fines, down from 5,981 reports in 2021, which included 4,290 mask-related incidents. The FAA proposed $5 million in fines in 2021.

At a planned news conference on Wednesday, the lawmakers will be joined by flight attendants from Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N), Frontier Airlines (ULCC.O) and American Airlines (AAL.O), as well as unions including the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and the Air Line Pilots Association.

The bill would direct the Transportation Security Administration to create and manage the no-fly list, create guidelines for appeal and removal from the list and grant TSA flexibility in determining how long individuals may be barred from flying depending on the severity of the incident.

Earlier this month, a man was arrested after prosecutors said he tried to open an emergency exit door on a Boston-bound United Airlines (UAL.O) flight and attempted to stab a flight attendant in the neck with a broken metal spoon.

In February 2022, Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) CEO Ed Bastian urged the U.S. government to place passengers convicted of on-board disruptions on a national no-fly list that would bar them from future travel on any commercial airline.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in 2021 directed federal prosecutors to prioritize investigations of airline passengers committing assaults and other crimes aboard aircraft after a sharp rise in onboard incidents.

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