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2019-10-18 14:23:26

Christopher Elliott Special to USA TODAY

Published 7:47 AM EDT Oct 18, 2019

They're inconsiderate. They irritate you. And sometimes, they infect you. 

Wouldn't it be nice if we could ban passengers like that from the plane?

Two no-fly lists already exist. The government has one, which is a subset of the Terrorist Screening Database, or terrorist watchlist. Generally, you land on that list because you might blow up a plane. Airlines also maintain smaller lists of passengers whose business is unwelcome. You can get on it by threatening a crew member or misbehaving on a flight.

If you've been wondering whether the airlines should expand their own no-fly lists, you're not alone. After a difficult summer for air travel, which included several frustrating incidents, people are looking for solutions. The idea of having stricter standards for in-flight behavior makes some sense.

Inconsiderate passengers

Joseph Flanagan, an engineer from Golden, Colorado, thinks the kind of passenger he sat next to on a recent flight should be blacklisted.

We were barely 10 minutes into the flight when he pulled off both his shirt and his shoes, he recalls. The sight of a bare body in an enclosed public environment was disconcerting. Then he propped his damp feet on the chair in front of him. Judging by the ensuing stench, neither his socks nor his shoes had seen water or sunlight for quite some time.

Inconsiderate passengers come in all shapes and sizes. They're the ones who occupy the bathroom for half an hour, doing their hair and makeup while the other passengers grit their teeth and wait. They're the bin hogs who place their carry-ons above your seat and then walk 10 rows back.

Should passengers have to take a basic manners test and submit to personal hygiene inspection before they're allowed to board a plane? Passengers like Flanagan, and many others forced to endure a flight next to a traveler who couldn't care less, would support that.

Irritating passengers

One of the most irritating passengers, of course, is the one who talks nonstop. As a result, you can't sleep, can't listen to music, can't get any work done. Wouldn't it be great if we could require passengers to take a monastic vow of silence for the duration of the flight?

But that's not the only thing that irritates air travelers.

Everyone who sits down in their seat and then immediately reclines as far back as possible should be banned, says Phillip Berg, who works for a library in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey.

Airlines are already working on that in their own way. Spirit Airlines locks some of its seats in place (the term it uses is pre-recline ) to keep passengers from fighting. Delta recently implemented similar restrictions to protect customers’ personal space.  

Want to know how to protect passengers' personal space? Give them more of it instead of taking it away. Just a thought.

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Irritants surround us on a plane. They range from the XL seat sprawler who refuses to buy a second seat, to the toddler who uses his tray table as a drum set. There's no easy way to detect an irritating passenger – until it's too late.

Infectious air travelers

One category of passenger that can – and should – be banned – are people who are ill. Sharon Lawrence, a mental health therapist from Largo, Maryland, says people who know they are sick shouldn't fly.

I have had to sit next to individuals who are sick, coughing, barely covering their mouths or using hand sanitizer after wiping their nose or mouth, she says. As a result of a few of these flights, I have become ill after flying.  

She says if you have a potentially infectious disease, you should stay grounded. Unfortunately, airlines take a dim view of people who cancel their flights because they have a cold, the flu or some other contagious disease. They rarely, if ever, offer a refund. And in an age of highly restrictive basic economy-class fares, you might even lose your ability to change your ticket and fly after you recover.

If passengers look sick or can't show a doctor's note (stating they are not infectious), an airline should keep them from boarding – not just for their own good, but the good of the other passengers and crew. And they should offer a full refund on the ticket, even if it's nonrefundable. But that's not profitable.

What can be done about these passengers?

Expanding the airline blacklists is easier said than done. Airlines must carry out their responsibility to provide safe and secure air travel in a nondiscriminatory manner, according to experts. 

Even though it is the case that airlines have rules in their contracts that allow them to remove a passenger under certain conditions, they have to have a sound legal basis, says David Reischer, an attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, a legal advice website. 

He says Federal Aviation Administration regulations permit airlines to remove passengers if the safety and health of other travelers are affected. But such procedures do not allow for the removal of a passenger without proper legal justification, he adds.

Put differently, you can't just ban groups of people from the plane. It's not legal. But maybe it should be.

Passengers behaving badly:  Southwest Airlines flight diverted after intoxicated passenger assaults other travelers, police say

How to not be one of those passengers

Keep your volume down. Use a headset, don't talk loudly and only engage in conversations with people who want to talk to you.

Don't invade people's space. A plane is a shared space. Don't lean back unless you ask and receive permission. Don't hog the armrest. Don't sprawl.

Take a shower before you board. And use deodorant. You don't have the right to smell bad on a plane. Keep your shoes and socks on, especially if you have a foot odor problem.


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