FAA Reauthorization Bill Says You Can Be Detained and Denied Transportation if You “Verbally Assault” an Airline Employee

Airline passengers have been dragged off planes and bloodied. And while airlines are now more reluctant to call police to have customers beaten have passengers removed from aircraft as a first line of defense, there’s been no regulatory or legal protections added.

There was David Dao. There was the senior citizen shoved to the ground by a United agent in Houston. He didn’t go public right away because the airline threatened to take away all his miles if he did. And don’t forget the harm done to animals< too.

However airline employees unions have been lobbying for “strengthening protections for airline passenger service agents from passenger assaults.” There is, apparently, a silent epidemic of airline employees being bloodied by passengers. And they want the body count to stop growing.

What are these dangerous assaults? According to Richard Honeycutt who chairs the Communications Workers of America’s Passenger Service Airline Council they are physical and verbal assaults.

And the CWA is “applaud[ing].. inclusion of passenger service agent assault language in [the] FAA Reauthorization Bill.”

Section 539 of the draft bill specifically provides for “reporting protocols” for employees who are victims of verbal assault, ensuring passengers aren’t permitted “to move through airport security or board an aircraft” if they are accused of verbal (or physical) assault until law enforcement “assess[es] the incident.” Under the proposed law if you say something that an airline employee finds offensive, there will be legal procedures in place to detain you and involve law enforcement.

It seems to me that airlines ought to refuse to transport customers who act uncivilly towards employees, and – union rules notwithstanding – should fire employees who act uncivilly towards customers. It also seems that law enforcement should be a last resort, not a first resort.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. “verbal assault” as a crime is a really slippery slope. There may be a silent epidemic or maybe not we only have a biased claim by some union guy. Meanwhile we have several videos over past few years showing radical abuse of airline customers…

  2. Someone should start a petition on stopping that clause being added into the FAA Re-authorization act

  3. Actually, now that I think of it, if they are using the legal definition of assault (which can include verbal threats of bodily injury), then it’s already a crime. The concern is the expansion of the meaning of assault to include other unpleasant things that might be siad.

  4. Hi Gary,
    I read that the bill would also remove the requirement that Airlines advertise the full price (including taxes and fees), which would allow them to advertise a very low fare without telling you there are additional taxes and fees until the end of the booking process. What are your thoughts on that?

  5. So this is a funny annoyance but the same bag generally speaking of what currently exists. If as a PAX, I say, “f-you stewardess, I hope you die” well yah I should be denied the “right” to fly on the private airline or at least its their right to not let me fly. Two rubs which are related. 1. An employee seems to be usually deemed in the right, until proven wrong by substantial evidence otherwise (DAO) which btw, most airlines also reserve the right to kick you off a plane for being observed as just recording an event.
    2. This is still a tightly wound protectionist system where there is at best addidental collusion by competitors preventing free market providers from offering the same service from new offeres from getting FAA certs to getting gate space at an airport.
    Airlines shouldn’t get both of the above and I know I’m over generalizing things I really hope there is some sort of large market disruptor that circumvents this. Flying cars are still 50 years away. Private air travel needs to drop by 25% min for some biz folks at best to still 50% for most biz folks to become justifiable and I don’t see a mechanism to cause that currently which makes me sad.

  6. “Refused Carriage” is the contractual verbiage which would be invoked in such matters (Contract of Carriage). “Denied Boarding” is regulatory verbiage associated with 14CFR250 (oversales). Most might think it’s semantics, but it’s an important distinction.

  7. 2 days ago I was flying PBI-JFK…plane was full, and all passagers had to be removed of the plane because a passager wanted to seat in another person seat and when asked to take his seat refused to do it. Then he was asked to leave the plane and he refused too. So…airlines aren’t perfect, but also there is a lot a stupid people traveling nowadays…,

  8. Airline lobbyists obviously wrote the bill and a compliant, useless Congress is doing their bidding. They don’t work for us; they work for the people with the big campaign checks. Of course most of them never even read bills, but just vote as they’re told by their party leaders.

  9. You appear to be misquoting the bill. It requires protocols for verbal assault but only calls for passengers to not be allowed to move through the airport… if they have been involved in a violent incident.

    4) Protocols for ensuring that a passenger involved in a violent incident with a customer service agent of an air carrier is not allowed to move through airport security or board an aircraft until appropriate law enforcement has had an opportunity to assess the incident and take appropriate action.

    A violent incident is not the same as a verbal assault, let alone merely accused of a verbal assault.

    The requirement of the bill might actually be helpful to travelers. Airlines are required to develop protocols, which travelers could use as benchmarks for employee behavior and provide training which could be examined as to content. If either of these were too pro-airline that would be problematic for the airline.

    The bill also specifically requires training on de-escalation which implies that airlines are required to make de-escalation a central part of their procedures.

  10. This will be a comment which as always, I don’t know if @Gary will publish, since it seems I never see any of the ones I submit. Nevertheless, here it goes.
    Last year when flying DFW PHX on First class, tired after connecting from FLL from a Disney cruise, I got served lunch. Sitting in the bulkhead window row and facing the stewardess reading her iPad, I had to wait 20 minutes for her to come and pick up my tray after I finished. Since I saw she was so “busy”, I rang the bell once, and she didn’t come. 5 minutes later I rang it again. She didn’t come. Instead she goes to the back of the plane, so I ring again, thinking that she probably missed me, and in about two minutes a steward, mind you, comes and faces me as close to my face as he could legally get without me charging him for assault. And in a menacing tone he said something like, “the captain wants to know what the emergency is, since the bell has been rang so many times. It is illegal to be calling so many times without any reason and that you can be charged for a disturbance.”
    So my comment here is, should I have called the captain and made my report to him about the stewardess contempt and lack of service for a passenger?, or just like I did, kept my mouth shut and did nothing since I’m a million miler, and worked for AA 50 years ago among other things.
    I strongly believe that sometimes the crews incite the passengers to react in a manner that is not conducive to peaceful resolution in whatever the problem might be. Were I be a younger hot temper person, I probably would have reacted differently than I did, since it certainly looked to me like a provocation from the steward.
    Passengers need protection too!

  11. @musketeer43 – you are absolutely correct – hostile crew provoke many incidents/adverse reactions from otherwise compliant/peaceful passengers – am also a million miler and now have to bite my tongue much more often because of intolerant/hostile cabin staff who threaten passengers instead of providing service.

  12. This gives airline employees perfect excuse and protection to claim “assault” whenever customers have a complaint instead of trying to service and solve their complaints. I just had this situation happened to me yesterday with a Frontier airline gate agent and now I am #BoycottingFrontierAirline because of this Incident. Since when do customers lose our right to complain and request the airline to fix a fault on their part? (They delayed and caused us to miss our connecting flight, then rudely told me my options were 1- to fly to the connecting city and basically try my luck of how long I would get stranded at that airport, could likely be the next day, or 2- to get my refund). The passage of this FAA bill will have me (and I am sure more people) start boycotting bad customer service airlines, one name on my list for sure is Frontier Airline #BoycottFrontierAirline. If airlines don’t know how to train their employees and enable/protect this customer mistreatment behavior, they will be boycotted.

  13. As a thrice a month flyer, I see more and more other passengers who poke and prod at the flight attendants looking for a reason for complaint or a reward for their bad behavior. Most of the complaints are petty (luggage space, wanting service for takeoff or being asked more than twice to comply with faa required regulation.
    Especially after 9/11, flight attendants are there for your safety first and foremost and for customers as a whole, not just the one complaining / foul mouthed passenger and their occasional lawyer (there’s always one on board who knows the law lol). Authorities are always needed in these instances you never know what an non-compliant person will do at 34k feet.. I prefer they handle them on the ground. These attendants have a plane full of other passengers to worry about and really cannot worry about combative passengers..
    My suggestions?:

    1- they didn’t manhandle you at TSA (not their fault) so don’t take it out on the plane.

    2- not their fault you tried to overpack a week on a carryon and it doesn’t fit. “If it doesn’t fit, it must A-get”

    3- be nice to each other and fellow passengers, you may have to save each others lives

    4-if you don’t comply you will not fly

    5-flight Attendants are there primarily for your safety, so please remove the imaginary all inclusive 5star wristband, everyone paid for their tickets just like you.

    6-Kindness gets kindness.. I’ve smiled and have been nice to flight attendants and have received excellent service even upgraded to accommodate a complaining passenger.. Don’t expect a personal slave for a few hours .. .we’re all human beings treat each other like so

    7-My advice… sit down, buckle up, stfu and enjoy the ride. The flight attendant and the passenger next to you (me) will be totally grateful

Comments are closed.