The nation's largest flight attendants' union is calling for disruptive passengers to be added to a national no-fly list after a spate of incidents in which flight attendants were "punched, kicked, spit on, and sexually assaulted."
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, referenced a disturbance on a cross-country American Airlines flight Sunday when a 50-year-old man tried to get into the cockpit and open the plane's exit door.
"You're either for protecting crew and passengers from these attacks or you're against," Nelson said in a statement on Tuesday.
"We need clear and consistent rules with strict consequences for those who cannot respect our collective efforts to keep everyone safe - in the air and on the ground," she said. "We urge the FAA, TSA, and DOJ to come together to implement a plan with due process to keep dangerous flyers on the ground."
Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian voiced his support for adding disruptive passengers to a no-fly list earlier this month, writing in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that there should be "zero tolerance" for behavior that could affect safety.
Unruly behavior in the skies surged in 2021 as air travel rebounded during the coronavirus pandemic.
There were 5,981 reports of unruly passengers last year, 4,290 of which were related to face masks. About two-thirds of the 394 unruly passenger reports this year have been related to face masks.
Eight Republican senators wrote a letter to Garland on Monday to express their "strong opposition" to the proposed no-fly list, since most incidents are related to the mask mandate.
"Creating a federal ‘no-fly’ list for unruly passengers who are skeptical of this mandate would seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland," the senators wrote. "The creation of this list by DOJ would result in a severe restriction on the ability of citizens to fully exercise their constitutional right to engage in interstate transportation."
Nelson, the president of the flight attendants union, said that "the worst attacks have nothing to do with masks."
"Our union continues to call for the creation of a centralized list of passengers who may not fly for a period of time after being fined or convicted of a serious incident," she said Tuesday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo in November to crack down on disruptive passengers, directing prosecutors to prioritize federal crimes in the skies.
During the American Airlines flight on Sunday, a flight attendant bashed a man in the head with a coffee pot after he tried to get into the cockpit and open the plane's exit door. The flight was diverted to Kansas City as passengers and flight attendants subdued him.
On Friday, a Portland man tried to open the emergency exit door of a Delta Air Lines plane while in flight.
Last Wednesday, a Frontier Airlines flight was diverted to Raleigh, North Carolina, after a man started threatening other passengers and claiming that people were trying to stick him with needles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.