WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to improve air travel safety, increase protections for travelers and airline personnel, reduce the number of in-flight violent incidents, and hold unruly passengers accountable if they assault an airline crew member or attendant, U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) are introducing new bipartisan legislation that could stiffen penalties against offenders convicted of assaulting flight crew aboard an aircraft and place them on a commercial no-fly list.
The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act is aimed at protecting travelers and frontline air crew members from the appalling pattern of physical abuse that seems to have become more frequent during flights.
“Protecting airlines employees and passengers from unthinkable violence and danger is paramount to ensuring the safety of the American public in the skies,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “No one should have to face threats, physical abuse, or any form of harassment in the workplace, including airline employees. Our bipartisan legislation would create a system-wide no-fly list for abusive passengers and prevent these offenders from harming aviation workers on all airlines, minimizing potential disruptions and keeping air travel safe for passengers and employees.”
“Unfortunately, too many of our pilots, flight attendants and crew members are dealing with unacceptable abuse from passengers -- everything from kicking to spitting to biting,” said Rep. Swalwell. “This behavior is not only inappropriate, but it also puts other crew and passengers at risk. I’m proud to join Senator Reed in introducing this bill to help protect everyone aboard aircraft and to help ensure flights are safe.”
“We’re here today to stand up for the 99.99999 percent of travelers who’ve had enough of bad behavior. Our bill seeks to help make the friendly skies a little friendlier -- and safer. There should be zero tolerance for violence aboard an airplane. And our message is simple: If you assault a flight crew member and compromise the safety of others aboard the aircraft, you’re going to be grounded. Because major disturbances in the cabin can compromise the safety of everyone on board a flight,” said Sen. Reed. “This bill will help reduce incidents of in-flight violence and hold unruly passengers accountable if they break the law.”
Under the newly unveiled legislation, violent offenders convicted of assaulting flight crew—including flight attendants, pilots, and crew members—aboard an aircraft could be placed on a commercial no-fly list that would be managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Transparency and advanced notice will be provided to banned individuals, including guidelines for removal and opportunities for appeal. The bill would also permanently ban abusive passengers from participating in the TSA PreCheck or Customs’ Global Entry programs.
The TSA is responsible for checking all people who purchase tickets on U.S. airlines against various watchlists compiled by intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security agencies. Under the system, airlines send the names of passengers to the TSA, which conducts the matches, and flags ineligible passengers.
The lawmakers say the enhanced penalty will serve as a strong deterrent against combative passengers and is needed to improve the safety of frontline aviation crews, attendants, and passengers to minimize disruptions to the national aviation system and restore confidence in air travel.
In recent years, the number of airline employees who have reported incidents of harassment, abuse, and assault in the workplace has skyrocketed. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) there were 5,981 unruly passenger incidents reported in 2021. The FAA investigated 1,105 serious incidents last year, over three times the previous high since the agency began collecting such data in 1995.
This year, the rate of unruly passengers is down to 3.8 incidents per 10,000 flights. That is down from last year’s record-smashing rate of 6.9 incidents per 10,000 flights, but still indicates that flight attendants and other airline employees are facing historic levels of abuse in the air.
The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would help create a more secure flying experience for the public and a safer workplace for air travel professionals. The bill is supported by a strong and diverse coalition that includes the Air Line Pilots Association; Association of Flight Attendants, CWA; Association of Professional Flight Attendants; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO; American Airlines; Delta Air Lines; and Southwest Airlines.
“We applaud Senator Reed and Congressmen Swalwell and Fitzpatrick for the introduction of legislation that would not only protect the flying public from those who have been convicted of unruly behavior or assaults on commercial aircraft, but also sends a strong signal of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions. We look forward to working with them and other policymakers on ways to protect all airline employees, not just those in flight. An offense onboard the aircraft is no different than an offense at the ticket counter or at the gate. Every employee and passenger should be protected by policies and consequences that treat them the same,” stated Allison Ausband, E.V.P and Chief Customer Experience Officer, Delta Air Lines.