Tag Archives: mask policy

The Usual Suspects

Eight Republican senators have written the Department of Justice to urge rejection of Delta Air Lines’ request for a unified no-fly list addressed to a specific cohort of passengers. The list is designed to add further deterrence against passengers who refuse to comply with government and airline policy regarding masks and who engage in violent aggressions against flight crews and other passengers. In some reported cases, these individuals have tried to open aircraft doors in flight, jeopardizing the lives of the passengers and crew as well as potentially people on the ground. They have also physically attacked air crew members.

According to Apple News, https://bit.ly/354uOLn, the story was reported in the Washington Post but seems to have been taken down. It was, however, also reported in The Hill. https://bit.ly/3rR4NYP So, as insane as this is, I am not making it up.

The authors of this masterpiece of obfuscation are:

Kevin Cramer – North Dakota

Ted Cruz – Texas

John Hoeven – North Dakota

James Lankford – Oklahoma

Mike Lee – Utah

Cynthia M. Lummis – Wyoming

Marco Rubio – Florida

Rick Scott – Florida

Why do I say it’s obfuscation?

  1. The senators admit that airlines are “free to deny service to any individual over past transgressions on their flights;”

Thus, the issue is not about the list; it’s about allowing the airlines to cooperate against violence without government sanction for such cooperation; the senators want less effective management of the issue rather than more effective management. Why are Republican senators siding with people who engage in violence in the air, jeopardizing the crews, passengers, and people on the ground?

  1. The senators’ main concern is not with the safety and convenience of most air travelers but with the opprobrium that will attach to the violators who, they say, are anti-maskers;

The letter claims the government-approved list “would seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland. Indeed, it would. Because there is no functional difference between a “terrorist” and someone who attacks the crew because he objects to mask policies. It’s not about motive. It’s about threat. What will these upstanding senators have to say if one of their anti-masker constituents succeeds in bringing down an aircraft? Or when one of them kills a flight attendant or another passenger? Here’s what  they will say: “we strongly condemn any violence towards airline workers,” the equivalent of “thoughts and prayers” when the damage has been done.

  1. The senators’ motivation is driven in large part by their continued politization of the mask mandate the efficacy of which they claim is subject to “significant uncertainty,” citing only a Congressional hearing comment by the CEO of Southwest Airlines.

It’s true that Gary Kelly testified that masks “don’t add much” to the COVID-protection armory, an observation rejected by at least one other airline executive at the same hearing. But then Kelly contracted COVID. And then Kelly took the opposite position from his Congressional testimony. As reported by Bloomberg News in late January, Kelly said: “Adding the mask is an added layer of safety, and given the fact that we’re right in the midst of this omicron surge, now’s not really the time to revisit that question, in our opinion,” ….There will come a time when the mask won’t be necessary, and I think we’ll all look forward to that, but now is not the right time.” https://bloom.bg/3GUpuXZ [emphasis mine]

Did these Republican senators deliberately mislead the Department of Justice?

  1. The senators have apparently decided that people engaged in violent acts against flight crews and passengers are “not terrorists.” They’re … something else. Why? Because they said so. In fact, they don’t even approve of the anti-terrorist TSA no-fly list, citing “lack of transparency and its due process concerns.”

It’s true that there have been issues about “transparency and due process” regarding the no-fly lists. The fact that they could have been done better, despite the hysteria-driven fear of another attack on the homeland, is no reason to reject a cooperation arrangement that prevents violent passengers from simply choosing another airline next time.

  1. The senators express greater concern for the “constitutional right to engage in interstate transportation” than they do for the protection of the vast majority of passengers who comply with the law and respect the role of air crews in applying that law.

The senators produce no authority to support the point that there is a constitutional right to air travel despite the engagement in violent acts of resistance to government and airline policy. I don’t believe such authority exists. This is just another case of Republicans claiming that “my rights are superior to your rights.”

  1. Next, the senators pull out the traditional “slippery slope” argument, suggesting that there is a real risk such a list would lead to “future unrelated uses and potential expansions of the list based on political pressures.”

Thus, the Republican senators want to put you at risk today to prevent some possible future use of the list for political purposes. Of course, they don’t address how, or why, such misuse could occur in an industry as hungry for, and competitive in seeking, business as the airlines. This is the “be afraid” of your government routine that Republicans often turn to when all else fails. It violates the well-known principle that you don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

  1. Finally, the last desperate straw: the senators want this issue turned over to Congress, where in the age of Republican obstruction, most good ideas go to die.

The senators know that no Republican senator would likely support legislation to create the list in question and that in any case it would take many months, but more likely years, for Congress to act. Meanwhile, every air passenger in the country will be exposed to greater risk because a small minority of people believe they have the right to attack flight crews and other passengers to protect “rights” they don’t have.

Is there a possibility that a no-fly list of the kind proposed by Delta could someday be abused? Maybe, but there is also at least an equal chance that as long as anti-maskers are willing to engage in violence aboard aircraft, a serious disaster may occur. Given the risks and the awful consequences, compared to the potential for misuse, the rational approach is the best one. Enable the industry to jointly respond by banning miscreants who engage in violence. Any violation of someone’s rights down the road can be addressed and no one dies. That’s the choice.

See also, https://shiningseausa.com/2022/02/09/terrorism-in-air-ban-perps/

Terrorism in the Air – Ban the Perps

This blog has twice addressed what the media and airlines continue to call “unruly” passengers who refuse to follow flight crew instructions: Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers  https://bit.ly/3uyZn6w and An Anti-Masker Walked into a Bar …  https://bit.ly/3Jj9xMP

I have noted that the term “unruly” fails to describe the violent conduct of these, mostly, anti-maskers accurately and fully. The current of today’s post describes their behavior as terrorism. That, I submit, is closer to the truth. Bear in mind that these people are almost certainly among those who are fond of telling Black people to “just comply” with police instructions and, in effect, blaming them when they are killed. These events usually occur at traffic stops but there are many other examples. Yet, when these people board aircraft, knowing what the mask rules are, they chose not only to refuse compliance, but they physically assault flight attendants and other passengers.

I have advocated that the situation presents immediate grave dangers that should be addressed with aggressive, immediate and automatic enforcement of the law and common sense.

It is now widely reported that Delta Air Lines has written the Department of Justice to request government creation of a no-fly list for these terrorists. It’s about time.

The main reasons I believe that airlines have been hesitant to simply exchange the names and agree to ban these nuts from flying is the antitrust laws. Someone would no doubt accuse the airlines of conspiring to limit competition. While I don’t believe such a claim has merit, it would be expensive to defend and pointless in the end. The better solution is the one Delta has finally requested. It remains remarkable only that the entire industry has not joined immediately in this request.

I haven’t found the letter yet but continue to believe that a government-approved no-fly list is an excellent idea, although the same outcome could be achieved by DOJ issuing a Business Review Letter, a common technique permitting firms to propose courses of conduct that might raise issues and to ask DOJ to clear them in advance. This is not a subject on which competition is materially involved or that could possibly be jeopardized. It’s a problem of safety about which there should be no “competition.”

As for the administrative difficulties of managing such a list, remember that airlines have always been able to manage connecting flights involving not only their own flights, but also their flights in conjunction with other carriers’ operations. A no-fly list would be a piece of cake compared to that.

So, come on, DOJ, let’s not turn this into another endless investigation. Take the action Delta requests. As for the terrorists, it’s simple: just comply.


An Anti-Masker Walked Into a Bar ….

Actually, no, it’s not a bar and it’s not a joke. They’re boarding airplanes, knowing full well that there is a federal policy requiring that masks always be worn except when actively eating or drinking. Yet they continue to reject compliance and, in many cases, verbally and physically abuse flight crews and fellow passengers.

The situation is so bad that the Federal Aviation Administration is publishing monthly Unruly Passenger Statistics. See https://www.faa.gov/unruly

It’s time to stop calling these miscreants “unruly passengers” and call them by their true name: Criminals. Why?

As stated by the FAA:

Interfering with the duties of a crewmember violates federal law

“Unruly passengers” can be fined by the FAA and criminally prosecuted by the FBI.

“Can be,” yes, but are they? Some are, for sure. You can read about some of the fines imposed in Travel Pulse: FAA Fines 10 Unruly Passengers $225K for Alleged Assault, https://bit.ly/3qGcoJm That’s some serious coin. The Washington Post reports that the FAA has referred 37 cases to the FBI for prosecution. https://wapo.st/3BQT5iq

The problem, as I see it, remains that only a small share of the cases is being pursued, despite a “zero tolerance” policy adopted by the FAA at the beginning of 2021:

The FAA reported 5,033 incidents of unruly passengers as of November during this year, 3,642 of which were related to mask-wearing. From the total number of incidents, the FAA initiated 950 investigations, a sixfold increase from last year.

The agency initiated enforcement action in 227 cases, some of which will lead to a civil penalty. Of the 227, 37 of the most egregious cases of disruptive or violent passenger behavior were referred to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution.

The progression from 5,033 incidents to 950 investigations to 227 enforcements to 37 possible criminal prosecutions suggests to the irresponsible anti-masker (who thinks it’s perfectly fine to violate federal law, assault flight attendants and possibly endanger the safety of an entire aircraft in flight) that his chances of getting away with “unruly behavior” are pretty good.

The words we use are important. Calling someone’s misconduct “unruly” diminishes its significance. It superficially equates attacks on flight attendants with talking too loudly, playing music without earbuds and generally being a slob. But those latter misbehaviors – obvious acts of unruliness — are in a completely different category from refusing to comply with masking rules and, even more obviously, physically attacking a flight crew member.

Aircraft in flight are no place for scuffles and fist fights. Nevertheless, in many cases other passengers have engaged miscreant anti-maskers in efforts to protect flight attendants and to restore order. It’s good that there are people prepared to engage in this way, but it should never escalate to that stage.

I well understand that airlines are reluctant to sound too “authoritarian” in presenting passengers with the “rule of the airways” after boarding, but the fact remains that the dangers of violent passengers on an aircraft present a uniquely problematic situation – for the passengers and crew as well as people on the ground.

The AFA-CWA International that represents flight attendants has argued that,

Expeditiously referring the most violent, physical assaults against crewmembers and passengers to the Department of Justice for public prosecution is the most effective way to deter bad actors and put a stop to the spike in disruptive passengers. https://bit.ly/3Cj0eZh

Absolutely right, but I would go even further and argue for criminal referral of every act of assault against crew members, as well as every act of refusal to follow flight crew instructions to “mask up.” If in the off chance that a crew member oversteps, the passenger can take it up with the airline after the flight, not by verbally or physically attacking the crew. Based on experience to date, it seems clear that the only way to deter this dangerous criminal behavior is to create the certainty that criminal prosecution will ensue.

So, FAA, start using the right words to describe the conduct and refer all the cases to the FBI. And while you’re at it, adopt the flight attendants’ union’s call for,

the creation of a centralized list of violators who will be denied the freedom of flight on all airlines. If a passenger physically assaults crewmembers or other passengers on one airline, they pose a risk to passengers and crew at every airline. They should be banned from flying on all airlines. Period.

The time has passed for putting that issue “on the table,” as suggested by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. It’s time to act.

AMTRAK Responds

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I took AMTRAK to task a while back for what I considered an amateurish performance in its communications about the resumption of “normal service,” wherein it had failed to mention and reinforce the federal mask mandate. https://bit.ly/3dekJwC I emailed AMTRAK to inform them of my posted statement. It took a while (pandemic, you know), but to my pleasant surprise, AMTRAK responded.

The reply contained what by now is the obligatory standard chiché for every public issue by virtually every enterprise, for-profit or otherwise:

… the safety of our passengers and employees is our number one priority.  Therefore, we have documented and forwarded your correspondence to the appropriate management for their review and appropriate action.  Please rest assured that we take matters such as these very seriously and appreciate your bringing it to our attention. [emphasis mine]

 OK, I admit to being a bit testy. The message went on to assure me that,

all passengers must complete this pre-trip COVID-19 check within 24 hours prior to departure. The pre-trip check includes acknowledgement that passengers agree to wear a mask at all times in compliance with federal laws and Amtrak policy. If they cannot acknowledge this, they will be asked [sic] reschedule.

That, of course, is good news and nice to know. The AMTRAK website does contain a clear statement of the mask rule that is still in place. I haven’t received any more promotional emails since my exchange with AMTRAK so I can’t say what, if anything, has changed in their communications. But I can say, GO AMTRAK!”

There, I feel better already.

AMTRAK — Communications 101

Late at night, I received an email from AMTRAK. I am a big fan of AMTRAK. I strongly prefer train travel over air travel between Washington and New York City and have used the regular trains, business class and, occasionally, Acela over the years. Most of the time, everything works pretty well, despite the horrors of the restrooms.

Here is Amtrak’s message, inspired no doubt by the CDC’s latest guidance:

Hi Amtrak Passenger,

Starting May 23, Amtrak will return to selling full seat capacity on most of our trains.  While you may have someone sitting next to you, our trains offer large spacious seats, ample legroom, no middle seats, and the freedom to move about the train.

When searching for travel, you will see that we added a percentage indicator that shows how full each reserved train is at the time of booking. You can use this feature to book trains that have more space and check how full your train is prior to travel.  If capacity exceeds comfort levels, you can change your ticket without incurring a fee (a fare difference may apply).

[In this spot was a screen capture of the Amtrak listing showing the percentage of seats full on a particular train. For reasons that defy understanding, WordPress will not permit that item to display]

In the meantime, Amtrak has been upgrading our technology, fleet, stations, and processes to make travel as seamless and safe as possible. This includes upgrades to the Amtrak app, where you can book, get boarding information, and check train status from a mobile device and receive real-time information before boarding. We’ve also been focusing on making the experience touch free, including contactless boarding, scanning tickets directly from the Amtrak app and installing new kiosks, which we will be rolling out throughout the year.

Thanks for being a valued Amtrak customer.  We’ll see you onboard!

The most up to date arrival and departure times are available on Amtrak.com, our free mobile apps, by texting “Status” to 800-872-7245 or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

Join us on facebook.com/Amtrak
Follow us on twitter.com/Amtrak

That’s grand, as far as it goes. My question is simple: why didn’t this message use this opportunity to reinforce the federal mask mandate? Given all the uncertainties associated with changing CDC guidance, plus the hysterical anti-vaccination, anti-mask, anti-public health, etc. crowd continuing their foolish anti-science ranting, you would think someone at AMTRAK would have piped up to note the absence of a reminder about the mask policy.

The failure to cover this runs the risk that travelers will show up, sans mask, claiming they saw the AMTRAK email and it said nothing about masks, therefore “I DON’T HAVE TO WEAR ONE AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME, MY RIGHTS, MY RIGHTS” etc., you know the drill by now. This obvious omission of an important message may place complying passengers in a difficult place, as has occurred on numerous airplanes in recent months (kudos to the Federal Aviation Administration for imposing major fines and deplaning the morons who refuse to comply with crewmember instructions).

AMTRAK, do yourself and your passengers a favor and put out another message that makes clear the federal mask mandate still applies in AMTRAK stations and on trains.