Tri-Valley Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore) joined two fellow lawmakers in a press conference last week to reintroduce legislation they'd first put forward one year ago, as high-profile incidents of belligerent airplane passengers continue to make headlines.
The "Protection from Abusive Passengers Act" would seek to mitigate attacks and unruly, aggressive behavior against airline crew, pilots and fellow passengers by putting stricter penalties into place, including a no-fly list for passengers who exhibit abusive behavior toward others on board commercial aircrafts.
"This is simply to make sure when it comes to flying we protect the people who protect us," Swalwell said in the March 29 press conference. "The pilots, the flight attendants, the flight crew --- they've worked hard over the past few years. They've been through hell and back from this pandemic to just this very tense hot political environment in America."
The bill was first introduced in the House on April 6, 2022, where it was referred to several subcommittees including those on aviation and on homeland security. Swalwell is joined in his efforts to push the legislation forward by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and fellow Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.).
The initial introduction of the bill came on the heels of sky-high numbers of reports and investigations into unruly passengers by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2021, which received 5,981 reports and initiated 1,099 investigations that year. Of the incident reports, 4,290 were related to mask requirements.
But with mask requirements lifted on April 18, 2022, shortly after Swalwell and fellow lawmakers first introduced the bill, the FAA continues to report record numbers of combative and unruly passengers in its 2022 data, with 2,456 reports resulting in 831 investigations.
According to FAA data since 1995, the number of investigations into unruly airline passenger behavior ranged from 91 investigations to 310 investigations per year prior to 2021. In 2020, 183 investigations were reported by the FAA, with 146 investigations in 2019
"Mask mandates have ended," Reed said in an announcement. "Still, the epidemic of air rage continues and this elevated level of in-flight violence has to stop."
The bill would enable the Transportation Security Administration to create and enforce a federal "no-fly" list that would prevent passengers who have engaged in violence aboard aircrafts from continuing to fly on commercial airlines, regardless of the carrier.
"We want to be transparent," Swalwell said. "We want it to be the most transparent part of your flight experience. When it comes to violence, if you try you will not fly."
Swalwell sought to emphasize the human toll that rising levels of violence had taken on airline crew and pilots, a group of whom were present at the March 29 press briefing, with several sharing harrowing stories of attacks on-board and ongoing physical and psychological trauma.
"Feedback that I heard from flight attendants and pilots is this isn't what we signed up for," Swalwell said. "We're willing to be away from our families, we're willing to get you to your wedding, your business trip, to your funeral, to your kid's graduation, that long-awaited vacation -- we're willing to do all of that and to get you there safely. But we didn't sign up to break up a fistfight at 30,000 feet."
The goal of the legislation, in addition to enforcing harsher penalties for violence in the skies, was to prevent it and to clarify the expectations for behavior aboard commercial aircrafts, according to Swalwell.
"So we want it to be clear to every passenger that boards a plane -- this legislation will put a process in place, which right now, the process is not formalized, it's ad-hoc. But a process will be put in place to make sure every passenger knows that if you commit violence in the skies you will no longer fly."
Given the continued rise in violent incidents from passengers that continue to make headlines and draw public scrutiny, Swalwell and Fitzpatrick both said that they were confident in it moving forward with bipartisan support from their colleagues in the house, as well as Reed's championing of the bill in the Senate.
"There's a lot of issues that Republicans and Democrats battle over every single day, but when it comes to pilot and flight attendant safety, there is no distance between us," Swalwell said. "Their safety has to come first, because if they're safe, all of us can get to our destination safely. That's what this legislation is about."