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Imposters among us: What a zero-tolerance no-fly list means

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

By Dhruv Anish Apr. 8 2022

Videos depicting airplane passengers shouting at flight attendants, using slurs and fighting fellow passengers have amassed millions of views on the internet. Delta Air Lines reports that the rate of incidents involving disruptive travelers has risen almost 100% in the last three years. To combat this surge and maintain a safe travel environment, CEO Ed Bastian proposed adding delinquent travelers to the federal No Fly List. He claims the current protocol, where each airline creates individual no-fly lists, is not effective enough, as it allows offenders on one flight to simply board a different airline while their behavior goes unpunished—a relevant loophole to address, although perhaps not as severe as Bastian proposes.

Daniel Choi Art

The federal No Fly List is a section of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, a service used to track individuals associated with terrorist activity. Following 9/11, the list grew exponentially from 16 names to upwards of 81,000. Each airline company’s unique no-fly list has separate guidelines, allowing them to ban passengers for on-flight behavior reasons, regardless of their criminal history. Legal strictures prohibit different companies from sharing lists, complicating the process of tabbing and reprimanding confrontational travelers. Bastian’s proposal would let airlines share catalogs of banned flyers and create a comprehensive list overseen at the federal level, making sure disruptors are denied flying privileges. Other companies like Alaskan and American airlines have adopted Delta’s lead in calling for a joint no-fly list by submitting names of disorderly customers to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for review.

“Lifetime national bans should be reserved for the most severe incidents involving passengers, such as potential terrorist threats. Customers that cause lesser disturbances should receive a nationwide ban for a set period of time depending on the incident’s severity. Those who are temporarily banned could appeal their sentence, but the criteria for overturning the ban must be strict to ensure disruptive behavior is duly punished,” Senior Brian Mathis said.

Although a national No Fly List could help prevent poor behavior aboard flights, the determinants for if an individual poses a flight risk are subjective and potentially susceptible to bias. For instance, Ashraf Maniar was unjustly placed on the No Fly List after his friend was arrested for supporting Syrian extremist groups on social media. Despite not being connected to his friend’s suspicious activities, The Intercept reports that Maniar was harassed by the FBI, who searched his home and prevented him from traveling for his business. Only after contacting a lawyer and undergoing a two-year litigation process was Maniar able to be cleared and granted a letter of immunity from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). After the Terrorist Screening Center invoked legal disquietudes regarding the No Fly List’s standards, the American Civil Liberties Union and the FBI agreed upon a $200,000 settlement in 2005 to allow passengers mistakenly watchlisted to appeal using the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

“To guarantee that troublesome passengers are penalized fairly without excessive bans, airlines should issue higher fines for rude or inappropriate conduct on flights. This would discourage people from being disruptive on rides without unreasonable bans,” Sophomore Abhay Dharnidharka said.

According to the FAA, in September 2021, the agency reported that six incidents involving unruly travelers occurred every 10,000 flights, a 50% drop from earlier that year.

While the concept of a national No Fly List promises to help make air travel safer, the prospect of unfair detention, coupled with many legal complications over disputing list entries make it a suboptimal solution to an already improving problem.

Instead of taking extreme measures, airlines can make firm announcements condemning improper conduct and improve customers’ awareness of their banned flyers list to dissuade incivility.


About the Contributors

Dhruv Anish

Staff Writer

Dhruv Anish is a senior at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. He likes to watch movies and listen to music in his spare time. His favorite actor is Robert De Niro and his favorite movie is The Godfather: Part 2.

Daniel Choi


Daniel Choi is a freshman at Leland High School and a current artist for The Charger Account. Outside of school, he spends time practicing various art forms, playing tennis, and binge-watching shows at unbelievable speeds.

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