Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that a federal no-fly list for violent or unruly airline passengers should be “on the table” as conflicts between staff and travelers on commercial airplanes soar.
Asked if such passengers should be prevented from flying, Mr. Buttigieg said, “I think that should be on the table.
“Look, it is completely unacceptable to mistreat, abuse or even disrespect flight crews,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
His comments came with aircraft fights on the rise as travel surges following the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s year-to-date figures show 4,941 reports of unruly passengers through Tuesday, including 3,580 mask-related incidents, and 923 investigations initiated.
That represents a five-fold increase in investigations initiated from recent years. In 2020, there were 183 investigations, and 146 in 2019.
“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 where they need to be,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “The FAA stands strongly with flight crews. 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.”
Last week, the flight attendants’ union reported that a passenger punched a female flight attendant in the face and broke her nose during a Wednesday flight on American Airlines from New York City to Santa Ana, California, forcing the aircraft to land in Denver.
“After a flight attendant who was working in a different cabin bumped this passenger, we’re told, she then walked into one of the flight galleys, and this passenger approached her and punched her in the face at least twice,” said Association of Professional Flight Attendants spokesperson Paul Hartshorn Jr. told KTLA-TV in Los Angeles.
“That’s what we know right now, and she sustained broken bones in her nose and her face,” he said.
He said that crews are seeing “verbal attacks on our flight attendants every day, it’s safe to say, and physical attacks increasing.”
The passenger was arrested once the plane landed and banned from future American flights.
American Airlines said in a statement that the company was “outraged by the reports of what took place on board.”
“Acts of violence against our team members will not be tolerated by American Airlines,” said the statement. “We have engaged local law enforcement and the FBI and we are working with them to ensure they have all the information they need.”
Mr. Buttigieg praised commercial flight crews, saying they have been “on the front lines of the pandemic from day one.”
The Transportation Security Administration extended in September its mask mandate for all transportation networks to Jan. 18.