Delta’s CEO called for a national no fly list for unruly behavior, act poorly on one airline be unable to fly any airline. Highly problematic, with no standards for being placed on that list (each airline applies its own!) or opportunity for judicial review. That didn’t go anywhere though it’s something the Biden administration toyed with.
Now Dutch airlines KLM and Transavia want this as an international system, and will begin by sharing unruly passenger behavior which each other. That step actually does make sense – since Transavia is owned by Air France KLM, and didn’t previously share data with itself.
However suggestions of a broader elimination of the right to travel based on non-judicial proceedings carried out by a single airline is insane. They want to see this extended more broadly throughout Europe and eventually the world.
In time, such efforts should focus on developing a set of international rules and on harmonisation. After all, the issue of unacceptable passenger behaviour transcends airlines and national borders and is critical to improving safety in the air. Unfortunately, legislation is lacking in many countries or the regulations are so fragmented that it is impossible to share data in a manner that promotes flight safety.
A no fly list won’t help when the underlying cause of the behavior is substance abuse or mental illness. And if deterrence is the goal then it would be far simpler to push for tougher penalties for inflight disturbances. Prosecute actual bad behavior, rather than circumventing the judicial system.
- Who gets to add people to this list? Would a Chinese state airline be able to add passengers to the ‘unruly’ list, banning them from travel even though they’re outside the country already? This extends China’s social credit system to dissidents around the world.
- What standards would be applied in adding someone to the list? If a passenger on a Thai Airways domestic flight insulted Thailand’s king, pointing out that he’d spent much of his time during the pandemic in Germany with his harem, would that justify banning that passenger from U.S. domestic travel?
Even American Airlines and Delta apply different standards when banning passengers. Surely the standards of Air Koryo and KLM are too different to be mutually relied upon.
- How would mistakes and abuses be addressed? U.S. terrorism watch lists have had people added by mistake, an FBI agent checking the wrong box on a form, and some people have names that are similar to those intended as targets. The process of redress is opaque, there are redress numbers but not everyone can get one (when they aren’t even told why they’re on the list) and it often takes extensive court proceedings before the federal government backs off rather than subjecting itself to judicial review. But what if the passenger was added to a list in Kyrgyzstan? Whom do you even appeal to?
Data sharing is one thing, announcing that a given passenger was added to a no fly list for a specific behavior, allowing other airlines to make their own decisions – provided that passengers can sue for damages when added under false pretenses, and holding airlines liable for mistakes. That would scare most airlines off of acting on the basis of such a list (as well it should!).
Ultimately any punishment that entails taking away the right to travel by air should be imposed after a judicial proceeding, where a specific crime is declared to risk this punishment explicitly and in advance, and for that punishment to extend extra-territorially only by explicit treaty.
Extending the ability to limit the civil rights of people around the world to Ariana Afghan Airlines – and by extension the Taliban – the literally the definition of insane to anyone that respects the values of liberal democracy.