Ban The Jerks
Bad behavior is on the rise. We can do something about it.
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America is facing an epidemic of bad behavior. Over the past two years, car accidents and road rage incidents have soared. Airline passengers have become so threatening that the CEO of Delta has asked to put unruly ones on the no-fly list and ban them from commercial flights. The internet is awash in videos of enraged Americans belligerently refusing to wear masks or abide by vaccine requirements, attacking people who are wearing masks, and berating people who work in the service industry.
The pandemic has made a lot of us lose our minds, and it’s apparently given thousands (or more?) people license to be their worst selves in public. But we don’t have to tolerate it.
Delta’s request is a good first step. The airline has already banned from 1,900 passengers from its own flights for outrageous behavior; more than 4,000 passengers were reported to the FAA for unruly behavior in the first nine months of 2021 alone. Most of these passengers were refusing to comply with mask rules. Some became violent, and several flight attendants have been hospitalized.
People aren’t behaving much better on the ground. An epidemic of reckless driving is leaving a stunning number of Americans injured or dead, and it also seems to be fueled by the pandemic. I’ve observed this anecdotally: Drivers are more aggressive, speeding through crosswalks and darting in and out of traffic. And road rage is also out of control, with drivers pulling guns out and threatening, and sometimes killing, a person who made them angry.
A person who threatens airline staff, or who refuses to comply with safety regulations, should lose the privilege of flying commercially. A person who repeatedly puts other people’s lives at risk on the road should not be allowed on the road. And yet, over and over again, people who dangerously violate traffic laws or who threaten others are allowed to remain behind the wheel. People who cause havoc on airplanes and put other passengers and staff at risk may be banned from one airline, but they can just hop on a different flight. And people who attack service industry staff are, at worst, the subjects of viral videos. Often, the staff just have to take it.
These are safety issues, and they are workers’ rights issues. Workers who are subjected to physical violence should have law enforcement on their side. But business owners can do more, too, including hiring security to enforce restrictions if customers are routinely becoming angry and violent, and permanently banning customers who behave badly. There’s no reason that businesses can’t join forces here, and no reason that the government has to stay out of it. Airlines are right to push for a centralized federal solution to dangerous passengers. Penalties for road rage and dangerous driving could be more severe, and the right to drive more readily restricted for those who abuse it.
Everybody has bad days, and we aren’t always our best selves in public. But threatening or physically assaulting people isn’t a “bad day.” It’s a serious problem that the public does not need to enable.