With Violent ‘Air Rage’ Incidents Still At Elevated Levels, Durbin Joins Colleagues To Renew Bipartisan Push To Ground Unruly Passengers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin joined U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-CA-14) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) to unveil the bipartisan and bicameral Protection from Abusive Passengers Act.  This legislation is designed to improve air travel safety by holding unruly passengers accountable if they assault a crewmember or fellow passenger.

Despite the mask mandate on planes ending in April of last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigated 831 unruly-passenger incidents in 2022, up from 146 just four years ago.  The FAA, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and U.S. Department of Justice are working together to deter and punish violent incidents aboard an aircraft, but clearly the existing range of civil and criminal penalties have not stymied the recent spike. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would provide another important tool to crack down on offenders convicted of physical or sexual assault or intimidation of the flight crew or fellow passengers aboard an aircraft.  Under the proposed legislation, TSA would create and manage a program which bars passengers who are fined or convicted of physical assault or intimidation and abuse from flying on commercial aircrafts.  The bipartisan proposal ensures fairness, process transparency, and due process - notice will be provided to banned individuals and there will be set guidelines for appeal and removal from the list.  The bill also provides TSA flexibility in determining how long the individual may be barred from flying based on the severity of the offense.

The legislation centers on enhancing a penalty that will serve as a strong deterrent and help the safety of frontline aviation crews, attendants, and passengers, minimize disruptions to the national aviation system, and restore confidence in air travel. 

“Everyone, no matter where they work, deserves a safe workplace.  It’s no different for airline employees,” said Durbin.  “When flight crews board a plane, they should not have to worry about the potentially dangerous behavior of a passenger.  With the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act, we are making it clear that violence or harassment is never acceptable.”

The legislation has been endorsed by airline industry leaders and labor organizations, including Air Line Pilots Association; Association of Flight Attendants, CWA; Association of Professional Flight Attendants; Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Communications Workers of America (CWA); American Airlines; Delta Air Lines; and Southwest Airlines.

“Flight attendants are the essential workers of our skies and critical to ensuring passengers get to their destination safely. But far too often, flight attendants have to worry about their own safety,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “Assaults on our airline workers are completely unacceptable, and both airlines and regulators need to act to put an end to this crisis. That’s why the TWU stands in full support of the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act, and why we will continue to spread awareness and fight for policies that hold abusive passengers accountable through our Assault Won’t Fly campaign.” 

“We know that frontline aviation workers are charged with safely moving passengers across the nation and performing critical jobs that can be challenging even in the best circumstances. The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act is necessary to reduce violent attacks on workers and ensure the safety of everyone onboard the aircraft and in the airport terminal," said AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) President Greg Regan.

Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Chris Shelton stated: "Front line workers, who are vital to our air travel, including tens of thousands of CWA represented Flight Attendants and ground service agents working across airports in the nation, do not deserve the uninterrupted level of violence they have been experiencing at the hands of unruly passengers, who often get away with it. We applaud our elected leaders for answering our call for meaningful federal action to effectively address the increase in physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse these essential workers constantly experience. We will continue to work with lawmakers to ensure the passage of this legislation into law, which is critical to the safety of workers and passengers and the health of the entire airline industry."

Summary: Protection from Abusive Passengers Act 

Under the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would create and manage a program which bars passengers who are fined or convicted of serious physical violence or intimidation from flying on commercial aircraft. 

Transparency and 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.

Specifically, the Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would require the TSA to define the policies and procedures for the banned fliers list (BFL), including:

  • A process for receiving abusive passenger referrals from the Federal Aviation Administration or the Department of Justice;
  • How the BFL will be maintained;
  • Specific guidelines and considerations for removing an individual from the BFL;
  • Procedures for expeditious removal of the erroneous additions;
  • Procedures for appeal and removal for non-erroneous additions; and
  • A process for providing advanced written notice of individual rights and program requirements, rules, and procedures for all individuals referred to the BFL, within five days. 

The bill also directs the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General to report to Congress every three years on any disparities based on race or ethnicity in the treatment of appeals for removal.

Under the bill, an “abusive passenger” is a person who was either: 

Convicted of:

  • Physically or sexually assaulting a commercial aircraft crewmember;
  • Threatening to physically or sexually assault a commercial aircraft crewmember;
  • Engaging in an action that poses an imminent threat to the safety of the aircraft or other individuals on the aircraft;
  • Assaulting a Federal airport or air carrier employee who has security duties within an airport; or
  • Other federal assaults, threats, or intimidation offenses against an aircraft crewmember while in flight.

Assessed a civil penalty for:

  • Tampering or interfering with, compromising, modifying, or attempting to circumvent any security system, measure, or procedure on an aircraft in flight; or
  • Causing a person to tamper or interfere with, compromise, modify, or attempt to circumvent any security system, measure, or procedure on an aircraft in flight.