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Delta Just Made a Request That Could Improve Air Travel for Everyone–Including Its Competitors


Delta has asked other airlines–its competitors–to share their “no-fly” lists of passengers who have been banned from the airline because of disruptive behavior and/or mistreatment of airline employees. That would allow all airlines to consider banning these passengers.

The airline says it has more than 1,600 people on its no-fly list, and United says it has over 1,000 people on its list. Many other airlines, including American, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit, and Alaska have their own no-fly lists as well.

Delta announced it had made the request in a memo to its flight attendants right before the start of congressional hearings on air rage this week. The memo was signed by Kristen Manion Taylor, the airline’s senior vice president of in-flight services and viewed by several news outlets. “A list of banned customers doesn’t work as well if that customer can fly with another airline,” she wrote.

Delta wants the lists from multiple airlines to be combined into one national no-fly list that all airlines could use to protect their passengers and employees. (This would be separate from the FBI’s no-fly list of suspected terrorists.) So far, no other airlines have responded publicly to the idea.

Air rage is on the rise.

The reason for the hearing, and for Delta’s proposal, is that incidents of unruly passenger behavior have been on the rise this year. The F.A.A. said at the hearing that this year’s number of incidents is twice as high as last year’s. Teddy Andrews, a flight attendant for American, testified that when he asked a passenger who was not eating or drinking to put on his mask, the passenger refused, using a racial slur. After several more racially-charged insults, the passenger added, “This entire virus is a big fake.” That must have been especially hard for Andrews to hear, since he spent 10 days in intensive care last year with Covid-19 and came very close to dying. He testified that he still gets debilitating headaches because of it. 

Unfortunately, this sort of experience is increasingly common for Andrews and all flight attendants. “These days I come to work expecting some form of disrespect or air rage,” he said. “I have lost count of the number of times I have been insulted just for trying to do my job.” He added, “It feels like flight attendants have become the target for all kinds of frustrations that some people are feeling.”

I think he’s exactly right about that. The past year has deepened political and other divisions in this nation, as well as divisions over pandemic-related precautions such as wearing a mask or getting a vaccine. Combine that with this summer’s frequent flight cancellations and overcrowded planes, and you have a recipe for exactly the sort of behavior Andrews has been subected to.

Creating a national no-fly list would also benefit passengers (at least the non-disruptive ones) because rude or violent behavior isn’t just a problem for airline staff, it’s a problem for everyone on the plane. On a Washington D.C.-to-Phoenix flight after the Capitol riot in January, some passengers were so problematic that the pilot threatened to divert the plane to Kansas. The threat worked and they calmed down, but if they hadn’t every person on that plane would have been forced to land in the wrong destination. 

What I like best about Delta’s approach is that it made its announcement not to the press or to the government but to its flight attendants. It was a very public acknowledgement that these front-line employees are forced to deal every day with a difficult situation that is not their fault and is beyond their control. Whether or not the national no-fly list becomes a reality, Delta has done what every employer should–signaled to its public-facing employees that it has their back. Let’s hope the other airlines agree, not just for the sake of flight attendants, but for everyone who ever flies.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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