Delta Air Lines is asking the U.S. Justice Department to create a national no-fly list of passengers who have been convicted for on-board disruptions.
Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland this past week saying such a “national, comprehensive unruly passenger ‘no-fly list’” that would bar those listed from traveling on any airline is a “much-needed step.”
The Atlanta-based airline has already put nearly 1,900 people on its no-fly list for refusing to comply with mask requirements, and submitted more than 900 names of passengers to the Transportation Security Administration for the agency to pursue civil penalties, according to Bastian.
The rate of unruly passenger incidents on Delta has nearly doubled since 2019 and the airline has two former Justice Department prosecutors on its legal team to cooperate with federal prosecutors when employees are involved, Bastian wrote. Four incidents on Delta have resulted in federal charges against customers in the past 30 days, he added.
He said the airline is offering more self-defense and de-escalation training for flight attendants and other employees who deal with customers, and expanding mental health coaching for employees “to help ensure they have the support they need in a challenging environment.”
The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the request from Delta.
It’s not the first time Delta has tried to create a national no-fly list of unruly passengers. Last year, Delta said it had shared the names of its no-fly list of more than 600 unruly passengers with the Federal Aviation Administration and asked other airlines to also share their no-fly lists.
“A list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline,” Delta said in that memo in September 2021. However, carriers sharing banned traveler lists could raise privacy or antitrust issues. A list of passengers federally convicted for their behavior could be a much narrower category of unruly passengers, based on federal prosecutions rather than airline decisions.
The Justice Department in November said it would prioritize federal prosecution of unruly passengers who commit crimes that “endanger the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants.” It noted that federal law prohibits assaults, intimidation and threats of violence that interfere with flight crews. Garland said in that announcement that “when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard.”
Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said it had arrested three women who had assaulted a Delta security officer in a jetway at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, alleging that after they were denied boarding for a flight, they “viciously assaulted an airline security officer by beating him to the floor with his radio and then kicking and punching him in the face and body while he was down.”
The FAA says so far this year, there have been 323 reports of unruly passengers, including 205 related to face masks. The issue came to the fore a year ago when the FAA put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for unruly and dangerous behavior on airline flights and the federal mask mandate was put in place. Unruly passengers represent a small fraction of total travelers and the number of reported unruly passengers has declined since the spike in incidents in early 2021, but officials say the incidents are still a problem.