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H.R. 7433 (117th): Protection from Abusive Passengers Act


This is literally a fight-or-flight situation.

Context

Unruly airline passengers had always been a relatively rare occurrence. But largely due to arguments over federal mask mandates, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) initiated 1,113 investigations into unruly passengers in 2021, or more than triple the amount in any other year. 71 percent of unruly passenger reports were due to mask-related incidents.

Punishments have largely come in the form of fines. Just last week, the FAA recommended an all-time record $81,950 fine for an unruly passenger:

It’s worth noting here that airline staff only enforce the mask mandate but they don’t actually create it. The mandate has been both instituted and extended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

The mask mandate was struck down as unconstitutional by a Florida district court judge in mid-April, upon which the FAA stopped enforcing the mandate.

What the legislation does

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would add people convicted of assaulting an airline’s crew or staff on a no-fly list. The penalty would only apply on conviction, so it wouldn’t apply to a passenger who was merely reported or investigated alone.

Such convicted passengers would also be banned from using either the TSA’s Precheck or U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry programs.

The House version was introduced on April 6 as H.R. 7433, by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA15). The Senate version was introduced that same day as S. 4019, by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the unprecedented rate at which this issue has recently occurred demands a legislative response, in a way that was never pressing before 2021.

“Unfortunately, too many of our pilots, flight attendants, and crew members are dealing with unacceptable abuse from passengers — everything from kicking to spitting to biting,” Rep. Swalwell said in a press release. “This behavior is not only inappropriate, but it also puts other crew and passengers at risk. [The legislation would] help protect everyone aboard aircraft and to help ensure flights are safe.”

“We’re here today to stand up for the 99.99999 percent of travelers who’ve had enough of bad behavior,” Sen. Reed said in the same press release. “Our bill seeks to help make the friendly skies a little friendlier — and safer. There should be zero tolerance for violence aboard an airplane. And our message is simple: If you assault a flight crew member and compromise the safety of others aboard the aircraft, you’re going to be grounded. Because major disturbances in the cabin can compromise the safety of everyone on board a flight.”

Unsurprisingly, the Association of Flight Attendants also endorsed the legislation.

What opponents say

GovTrack Insider was unable to find any statements of opposition to the legislation specifically. (Although some people, particularly libertarians, have opposed the concept of a governmental no-fly list in general.)

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed at least some level of hesitancy with the concept behind the legislation, if not outright opposition.

“I think we need to look at anything that will help keep our skies safe. I will say that many of the airlines have already taken that step privately, and we should continue to look at what we could do at a policy level, knowing there is complexity when you try to do that that cuts across airlines and is developed by the government,” Buttigieg told Yahoo Finance in a February interview.

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted five bipartisan cosponsors: four Democrats and two Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Homeland Security or Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Senate version has not yet attracted any cosponsors, for reasons unclear considering the bipartisan House support. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Last updated Apr 27, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 27, 2022.


Protection from Abusive Passengers Act

This bill addresses the banning of abusive passengers from commercial aircraft flights. Abusive passenger is defined as any individual who engages in behavior that results in a civil penalty or conviction for assaulting, threatening, or intimidating a crew member or passenger on an aircraft flight, or who takes any action to interfere with security screening personnel or any security system related to civil aviation security.

It requires the Federal Aviation Administration or the Attorney General to provide the identity, including the full name and date of birth, and gender of all abusive passengers to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The TSA must maintain a list of abusive passengers and develop and make publicly available policies and procedures for handling individuals included on the list. Any individual on the list shall be prohibited from boarding any commercial aircraft flight until the individual is removed from such list.

Additionally, all abusive passengers shall be permanently ineligible to participate in the TSA PreCheck or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry programs, with specified exceptions.