As much as I detest unruly passengers who are disorderly on airplanes, the answer is not a new system that imposes blanket bans on commercial flying to passengers deemed disruptive.
A New National No Fly List? No Thank You…
A memo from Kristin Manion Taylor, Delta’s Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service makes the case for a new national no fly list for passengers who misbehave onboard:
At Delta, we now have more than 1,600 people on our “no fly” list, and we’ve submitted more than 600 banned names to the FAA in 2021 as part of their Special Emphasis Enforcement Program.
We’ve also asked other airlines to share their “no fly” list to further protect airline employees across the industry – something we know is top of mind for you as well. A list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline.
The move comes after the Federal Aviation Administration gave airlines one week to come up a with a solution to the lingering problem of passenger misbehavior onboard.
Too Much Room For Error
Chew on this: if the David Dao incident had not been captured on video, he likely would have been banned from flying on United Airlines and branded a combative, disruptive passenger (as United initially labelled him). But that narrative did not stick and instead he was broadly heralded as yeoman hero and settled for millions of dollars after being dragged off an oversold flight for refusing to give up his seat.
What a difference a perspective makes…
Actions have consequences and I don’t want bad passengers walking from one airline to the next…it’s something I experienced on a recent United flight and will share about next week.
But even with a common desire to keep drunk, defiant, or deplorable passengers off of airplanes (especially in light of what happened on JetBlue earlier this week), this is not the right approach.
As Gary Leff notes, “It’s appropriate for an individual business to choose not to do business with a customer anymore. It’s far more questionable for a business to say that no one should be permitted to do business with that customer.” Especially when each airline takes it own approach to mask enforcement.
Furthermore, we need to look no further than the federal No Fly List, spawned by the new security industrial complex after the 9/11/2001 attacks, to see the inherent problem of such a list. Thousands found themselves improperly on that list. Passengers on that list were not given reasons and were offered only limited avenues of redress. Some improperly placed on the list were eventually removed, but with no explanation or apology.
And now we want airlines to share names pursuant to a plan to effectively block people from stepping onto any commercial flight?
Even if full names and dates of brith were used to carefully match flyers and avoid John Doe problems, there still remains remarkable room for error, particularly in how events are construed.
What about the case of an overzealous flight attendant or gate agent? Can you not easily imagine a situation in which a flight attendant did not like a passenger and colluded with a colleague to drum up charges? A crazy flight attendant accused me of taking pictures of her…what if one of her flying partners went along with her and I got banned from all airlines?
Despite being a heavily regulated and subsidized field, it’s a stretch to argue anyone has a right to fly commercially. At the same time, the lack of alternative options effectively restricts the livelihood of those who are who are barred from stepping onto any flight.
There’s a better alternative: prosecute immediately those who disturb flights and are kicked off. You want to disturb a flight? Fine, you’re going to get fined and potential jail time for doing so. Hold special night courts to expedite it. If every instance of misbehavior is actually followed through with swift and meaningful consequences, there should be little need to share “naughty” lists because passengers will not be repeat offenders.
I don’t trust airlines to effectively and fairly share intelligence, even if the end result would be utilitarian; that is providing the greatest good for the greatest number. Instead, we should use the mechanisms we have in place and aggressively punish those who act out on board with civil or criminal penalties.
On American Airlines, you will be permanently banned if you engage in “name calling” a crew member. The term is not defined. Imagine a passenger banned from all airlines because of a misunderstanding and with little or limited option to appeal. There’s a better way: throw the book at those who act out and let the law take care of them. Surely, there is great public desire for it to do exactly that.
image: Delta Air Lines