Local congressman Eric Swalwell is one of two lawmakers who have introduced a bill that aims to tame the trend of aggressive and disruptive behavior from airline passengers amid pandemic anxieties and travel restrictions.
Swalwell, alongside U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) took to the U.S. Capitol to discuss the impetus for the "Protection from Abusive Passengers Act" at a press conference on April 6, which was also televised on C-SPAN.
"As a father of three kids in diapers who flies back and forth from California to Washington, I've seen how unsettling it is for families to witness these in-flight incidents," Swalwell (D-Livermore) said. "Having your kids exposed and vulnerable to violence that's going around, and I've seen mothers huddling over their kids as these incidents take place."
"They threaten the safety of passengers, they threaten the economy of America," he continued.
The legislation is aimed at both reducing incidents of violence and harassment during air travel, and holding perpetrators accountable by potentially placing them on a commercial "no-fly" list to be managed by the Transportation Security Administration.
The two legislators argue that such a measure is necessary to combat a dramatic uptick in harassment, violence and generally unruly behavior from air passengers. They point to numbers from the Federal Aviation Administration that see the number of reports of such incidents rise to 5,981 unruly passenger incidents in 2021, more than three times the prior record.
Criteria for "abusive passengers" in the bill include receiving a civil penalty for "assaulting, threatening, or intimidating a crewmember"; "tampering with, interfering, compromising, modifying, or attempting to circumvent any security system, measure, or procedure related to civil aviation security," and conviction for federal offenses "involving assaults, threats or intimidation against a crewmember on an aircraft flight."
Banned passengers would not be allowed board any commercial flight unless they are removed from the "no-fly" list. However, being removed from the list proposed by the bill would not prevent someone from potentially being on another TSA-managed list that could prevent them from flying.
While the prospect of landing on a "no-fly" list is intended to be a harsh penalty that provides deterrence, the bill also seeks to provide a fair warning to passengers and to offer routes for appealing a decision.
"It puts in place and addresses many due process concerns, of notice, right to appeal, but it also says if you're convicted, it may be your last flight," Swalwell said. "So it's a consequence and a penalty for anyone who would commit violence."
"This is also a deterrent, because no one would ever want to take their last flight over something as ridiculous as throwing a punch at a flight attendant or a fellow traveler," he continued. "Enough is enough. There will be consequences in the future."
If enacted, the TSA would develop a publicly available website listing details of the bill, and the new policies and procedures that would ensue from it, within 180 days of the bill's passage.