Whether or not you believe in cancel culture, we have to agree that no-fly lists are essential to keeping the skies safe. Just like Louis XIV put signs out to say “keep off the grass” to clue in the aristocrats who kept walking on his lawn, airports and airlines may have to do the same to explain how Jetiquette is a requirement for air travel.
Before you get upset at the idea of a crackdown for no-fly lists, take a moment to think about an experience you had at an airport or on a plane where someone was not on their best behavior. (And no, we don’t mean babies—there’s nothing we can do about that.) Sure, you came away with a story, but it still disrupted your trip.
You, as a person who practices airplane etiquette, shouldn’t have to worry about your travel experience being tarnished by someone who, well, doesn’t.
And while no-fly lists may seem like drastic measures, they may be the most effective thing to prevent people from acting up in airports or on planes. It also presents a learning opportunity.
When you get a significant ticket for breaking a traffic law, many states require you to take a course in driving etiquette and regulations to get back on the road. Airlines and airports can require the same for passengers who want to be removed from a no-fly list.
If a person breaks the rules and gets put on a no-fly list, before they can travel again, they’d have to take a course in Jetiquette in addition to the fines and punishment levied by the airport or airline before they fly again. Seems fair, doesn’t it?
COVID-19 and the Increase of Unruly Passengers
Many passengers have basically thrown Jetiquette out the window in light of the pandemic.
The uptick in passenger misconduct during COVID-19 regulated travel has uncovered an overall lack of consideration that exists at 40,000 feet. This can be traced to the absence of good manners and social skills education that used to take place in schools and a generalized “me-only” attitude among a segment of the traveling public.
As of September 28, 2021, the FAA has reported nearly 5,000 unruly passenger reports in 2021 alone. And the year isn’t even over! We also feel it’s important to mention that 3,274 of these reports were mask-related.
The grand total doesn’t include security violations, either. Security cases are handled by the TSA rather than the FAA, which means 5,000 people caused a problem that an airline crew member reported.
As unruly behavior on airplanes increased, the FAA implemented a no-tolerance policy on January 13, 2021. This policy states that the “FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counseling. The agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.”
Now the FAA has increased the number of investigations they’re performing on reports and doling out steeper fines than ever. As you can imagine, they’ve got their hands pretty full.
But even though the FAA has launched more investigations in 2021 than they have in any prior year, they’ve only opened cases for about 17% of the incidents reported.
So how do we make this unruly passenger number go down?
1. Everyone learns and practices Jetiquette
2. Those who don’t get placed on a no-fly list
The FAA has a Zero Tolerance for Unruly and Dangerous Behavior Toolkit on their website, but instead of providing learning modules or documents, it’s mostly memes and videos. We think this is a great start, but there’s plenty of room to add more tools to this toolkit.
Generalizing the No-Fly List
When a passenger is banned from flying with one airline, it’s not much of a big deal because they can always book their next trip through a different airline.
However, as the number of unruly passengers continues to increase, this may change.
Delta, which has approximately 1600 people on their internal no-fly list, is calling for airlines to work together to create a master no-fly list. In a memo shared with a House Transportation Committee (HTC) for a hearing about the “surge in air rage,” Delta claimed that sharing no-fly lists are necessary to “further protect airline employees across the industry.”
Alaska Airlines agrees with Delta, stating, “Through our alliance with Airlines for America, we support a federal process to deny flying to those who present a risk to safety and security onboard our aircraft.”
Sara Nelson, the president of the AFA-CWA, is also vocal in the union’s support of a “centralized list of passengers who may not fly for some period of time, and provide airlines with access to the list.” Nelson claims that these unruly passengers put the airline employees and other passengers at risk by keeping the lists separate and demonstrate an overall feeling of indifference towards bad behavior.
Alaska and American Airlines have both openly stated that they share information with the FAA, including the names of their banned passengers. The FAA has not released a grand total of the banned passengers they’ve received from airlines or have stated how they use that particular data when they receive it from airlines.
But it may still take some time for a master no-fly list to be implemented.
When asked by HTC Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) if it could be permissible for airlines to share their no-fly lists, Airlines for America Vice President Lauren Beyer simply claimed, “there are legal and operational challenges with airlines sharing those lists amongst one another.”
DeFazio offered a solution that includes having the FAA create a database to which airline representatives could post no-fly passenger names. Then all airlines can use it for reference.
Either the FAA was less than thrilled about this idea, or they didn’t want to make promises they couldn’t keep. In a statement, the agency said that they’re “meeting with airports, airlines, unions, and others to discuss what additional steps the FAA and [their] industry partners can collectively take to continue driving down the number of unruly passenger incidents.”
But at some point, something’s gotta give. Yes, the FAA’s zero-tolerance policy is a step in the right direction, but it hasn’t done enough to deter people from acting poorly on flights.
Teddy Andrews, a flight attendant for American Airlines, stated that “it feels like flight attendants have become the target for all kinds of frustrations that some people are feeling.” Our flight attendants are working their butts off to keep everyone safe during the most stressful time to fly in the last decade, so why are we making life more difficult for them?
We stand with the airlines and unions pushing for a shared no-fly list. We believe it will give passengers more of an incentive to practice their best Jetiquette.
But as we said before, we think it’s also essential to educate people on the proper ways to act on airplanes and in airports. That’s why we created the Jetiquette Guide in the first place.
Passengers who get flagged for unruly behavior should have to complete a short class to review Jetiquette before they’re allowed to fly again. In addition to the fines and the temporary ban on flying, this would create more of an incentive for passengers to be on their best behavior. And well-behaved passengers mean a better flying experience for everyone on board.
The more people who learn and exhibit Jetiquette, the fewer unruly passenger complaints, and the fewer people on no-fly lists.8
If you’re wondering what you can do, you can brush up on your own Jetiquette and be sure to be a star passenger on your next flight.
After all, the last thing you want is to be featured on @passengershaming on Instagram.
Gailen is an air-travel enthusiast and historian.