No Fly List

flight onboard plane

Delta Airlines CEO Edward Bastian has requested that the U.S. federal government create a national no-fly list of disruptive passengers barring them from traveling on any commercial carrier. He noted in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that “this action will help prevent future incidents and serve as a strong symbol of the consequences of not complying with crew member instructions on commercial aircraft.”

Is it a good idea for the government to be involved? Would such a list even work as an effective deterrent to bad behavior? Would a list restricting the movement of people not present a slippery slope?

Bastian is trying to pass the buck by asking the government to create a disruptive passenger list. Currently, airlines maintain their own private lists of banned passengers. In the case of Delta, a staff memo states that “anytime a customer physically engages with intent to harm, whether in a lobby, at a gate or onboard, they are added to our permanent No Fly list.”

But obviously, if having punched a flight attendant on Delta a passenger is banned, that passenger simply would next fly on a different airline. And potentially pose a problem for say, United or KLM. Bastian and others feel the need for a shared list to cover all flights. One wonders why airlines have not already started sharing their lists. After all, sharing information about problematic customers is already business as usual in some sectors. Take for example Las Vegas. Casinos have an alliance to combine and share intelligence on card counters and cheaters. But the important difference is that the list of cheating gamblers shared by Vegas casinos is intelligence, not regulation. It’s up to casino management to use the information to identify a customer and figure out how to deal with him/her – keep a close watch or, ask them to leave. What Bastian is asking for is regulatory, not simply data sharing.

One of the many issues of setting up a shared list is who decides who is on it and by what criteria. What constitutes disruptive on an airplane is an important element. Some behaviors such as those that involve physical violence are obvious and where a crime is committed, law enforcement and the judiciary get involved. But there are gray areas – wearing a t-shirt with a politically incorrect and offensive to someone message or, being drunk, loud and annoying. The specific definition of disruptive would have to be crystal clear.

Examples of disruption from just this week include a drunken, unruly group that called an attendant the n-word when asked to mask up (that Delta Airlines plane returned to the gate and was delayed), a passenger screaming that the woman sitting behind him was trying to steal his DNA (that Frontier Air plane was diverted mid-route) and a man tried to open the main cabin door mid-air (that American Airlines plane was diverted). One assumes that these folks are now passengers non gratae on those carriers. Famously, back in 2011 actor Gerard Depardieu was removed from a CityJet flight after he urinated on the carpet near his seat minutes before takeoff. I’m pretty sure he’s not on anyone’s no fly list.

The aviation system - although built on private airline companies - supports the public. As a democracy, we cannot afford to restrict air passage arbitrarily or to allow politics to get in the way of fairness.  A no-fly list would limit freedom of movement, especially in locations where air transportation is the only option. Consider a resident of Hawaii who is put on a shared no fly list.  It’s one thing to block someone from a given local bar; it’s quite another to prevent that individual from flying to or from Hawaii.

There will always be miscreants. Their appearance in various areas of our life, and on flights is inevitable. Here are some alternate solutions for dealing with the problem of disruptive passengers:

  • Institute a ticket surcharge for passengers who have been disruptive on a flight.
  • Up the financial penalties for being disruptive.
  • Communicate the expectations and consequences of disruption very clearly and upfront to passengers.
  • Train staff to monitor and profile for passengers poised to get out of control; there are indicators.
  • Stop selling alcohol on the plane and don't allow intoxicated individuals to board.
  • For multiple leg trips, passengers must be cleared before they can get a boarding pass for subsequent leg(s).
  • Create a position of an on-flight bouncer, a kind of a private Air Marshall role to keep folks in check.
  • Airlines could charge an additional fee for such a profiler/bouncer service.
  • Budget for this bouncer position could come from a disruptive violator penalty fees fund.
  • Where service, comfort and customer experience are concerned, airlines are failing miserably. They are literally getting worse on that front every year with smaller cabins, cramped seats, delays that can trap travelers on the tarmac for hours with little explanation and, less service. Add jet lag and crying babies to the mix. Flying can be stressful. The role of attendants (not their fault) has devolved from gracious service to harried wrangling. Today’s situation reflects a business decision on the part of airlines not to invest in better customer service, better training, better policies and procedures.

Movie cinemas are an example of an industry that has shifted to improve and expand the customer experience with wide comfortable seats, more personal service and expansive menus. Customers will pay a premium for that environment.

Recall that just after 9/11, travelers were very wary about flying. El Al Airlines had an established reputation for great aviation security. Their business boomed and they were able to sustain higher ticket prices, too. Security and safety are marketing points. So too would be the promise of a less stressful and contentious flying experience. In the current climate, customers might well be willing to pay more or might base their selection of carrier on its reputation for providing a peaceful flight.

Chameleon Offers

Many Chameleon clients, especially retailers, have needed to deal with disruptive behavior. Why folks are acting crazy is not entirely clear, but Covid restrictions and mask mandates seem to have brought out the worst in some people.

To that end, we offer a great, short online course in DeEscalation. The curriculum is appropriate for just about anyone who wants to gain understanding of the psychology and behaviors and learn skills for defusing a wide range of combustible situations. Link here for more info and to see demo.

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