Lummis: Disruptive Passengers Protesting Masks Should Not Go On No-Fly List

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis said putting people who disrupt airplane flights to protest facemask mandates should not be put on a "no-fly list," as it would put them on the same footing as terrorists.

Ellen Fike

February 15, 20224 min read

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U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis joined several Republican colleagues this week in arguing against putting people who disrupt airplane flights to protest facemask mandates on a “no-fly list,” saying it would put them on the same footing as terrorists.

In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland by Lummis and seven other Republican senators, the senators expressed strong opposition to a proposed comprehensive “no-fly” list for disruptive airplane passengers.

“While airlines are currently free to deny service to any individual over past transgressions on their flights, the federal government’s role in denying access to the commercial aviation network has been limited to ensuring that suspected terrorists remain off of domestic flights,” the letter said.

The senators noted in their letter that the majority of recent infractions on airplanes have been related to the Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate, as there is “significant uncertainty” around the mandate’s efficacy.

“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 letter said. “The TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights.”

Garland received a letter from Delta Airlines earlier this month, in which officials indicted their desire for the U.S. Department of Justice to create a list that would essentially ban any airline passenger who has been convicted of disrupting a flight from using being any to fly on any commercial air service provider.

But the senators argued that such a list would result in a “severe restriction” on the ability of citizens to fully exercise their constitutional right to engage in interstate transportation.

“It also raises serious concerns about future unrelated uses and potential expansions of the list based on political pressures. If the airlines seek to have such a list created, they would be best served presenting that request before Congress rather than relying on a loose interpretation of a decades-old statute originally written to combat terrorism,” the letter said. “Absent any updated expressed directive from Congress, we strongly urge DOJ to reject this request.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 5,891 reports of unruly passenger incidents in 2021, 72% of which were related to masks.

The current mask mandate on flights is set to expire on March 18.

The idea of a comprehensive “no-fly” list has generated mixed reactions. A senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union told NPR last week that it was a bad idea to create the list.

However, many officials within the airline and transportation industry have been in support of the list.

An American Airlines flight was diverted on Sunday to the Kansas City International Airport after a passenger attempted to open the plane’s exit door. A flight attendant subdued him after hitting him in the head with a coffee pot.

Last week, a man was removed from a Frontier Airlines flight in Cleveland after he and another passenger exchanged heated words about the upcoming Super Bowl game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, who ultimately won.

As the man was escorted off the plane, he declared himself the “only Bengals fan.”

Lummis spokeswoman Abegail Cave told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that Lummis believes incidents like the man attempting to open the exit door should be prosecuted via the proper legal channels.

“The letter she led to the Department of Justice denounces behavior such as this,” Cave said. “However, the concern remains that a list such as this would enable a secret process that could result in many Americans being denied access to the commercial aviation system. Airlines are well within their rights to ban these passengers from their flights, but the federal government should not be keeping lists on their behalf. Sen. Lummis is strongly opposed to removing one’s constitutional right to travel without due process, which is precisely what this ‘no-fly’ list would do.”

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Ellen Fike