In the midst of a rise in violent incidents on airplanes, out Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said adding violent and unruly passengers to the no-fly list “should be on the table.”
During an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Buttigieg emphasized that “it is completely unacceptable to mistreat, abuse, or even disrespect flight crews.”
“These flight attendants have been on the front lines of the pandemic from day one,” he continued, “and they’re up there, as the announcement always says, for your safety. There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment of flight crews in the air, or any of the essential workers, from bus drivers to air crews, who get people to where they need to be.”
In the interview, State of the Union co-anchor Dana Bash asked Buttigieg about the possibility of a no-fly list in the context of a recent American Airlines flight that was diverted when a flight attendant suffered broken bones, including in her face, after being assaulted by a passenger.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has seen at least 1,300 reported cases of violent or unruly passengers this year. In most years, there are between 100 and 150 incidents, according to NBC News.
“What we have seen on our planes is flight attendants being physically assaulted, pushed, choked,” said Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants union. “We have a passenger urinate. We had a passenger spit into the mouth of a child on board.”
The spike has been attributed in large part to passengers refusing to wear masks on planes, in addition to pandemic-related mental health issues.
“The pandemic has actually triggered some of our very evolutionary behaviors that we didn’t even realize we had,” neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez told BBC. “So we respond by pouncing almost like we were designed to.”
In response to the spike, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has instituted a “zero-tolerance” policy for unruly passengers, meaning instead of softer consequences like warnings or counseling, the FAA will immediately resort to legal action.
“The FAA stands strongly with flight crews,” Buttigieg said. “That’s why you’re seeing some really harsh penalties and fines being proposed, and we will continue to look at all options to make sure that flight crews and passengers are safe.”