After rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in January, there was a rash of social media videos purportedly showing passengers being detained and prevented from flying because they’d been added to the government’s “no-fly” list.


frustrated airline passenger in airport chair

This turned out not to be true, but it does raise a good (and not completely answerable) question: how does someone get on that list?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) describes the federal no-fly list as a “Screening Database (also known as the terrorist watchlist) that contains the identity information of known or suspected terrorists.”

This list was created after the events of 9/11 and is largely secret in nature. At the moment, this designation does not extend to “domestic” terrorists at all. To date, none of the people involved at the Capitol were charged with “terrorism” crimes.

The TSA reports that of the 80,000 people currently on the federal no-fly list, less than 1,000 are U.S. citizens. Airlines can (and do) keep no-fly lists of their own, which allows them to prohibit passengers from boarding based on past behaviors. Most of the time, an airline will ban someone from flying when they have run afoul of a carrier’s policies.

If you’re curious about what offenses can get you banned, check out specific airlines’ contracts of carriage (this is basically the “fine print”) which spells out the legal arrangement that you enter when flying. Still, don’t expect the airlines to share specifics. They basically reserve the right to toss you from a flight just as most businesses can refuse to “serve” you.

During the 2020 global pandemic, some passengers were banned for refusing to wear masks once on board a flight, but getting into altercations with crew members or other passengers can also get you into hot water. You can also get the boot if you’re intoxicated or unruly. To stay in good standing, behave yourself.

As for the federal no-fly list, it’s been controversial pretty much since its inception for a variety of reasons. There have been questions about its legality – since you do not require proof of a crime for you to be added to it. In addition, there have been multiple cases of mistaken identity, when a passenger has been ejected from a flight for having a name similar to or identical to a completely different person who had been banned.

The Capitol riots are just the latest chapter in the history of the federal no-fly list. It remains to be seen whether or not its scope will be expanded to include domestic terrorists. How do you feel about this latest incident? Do you think it’s fair for the government to decide who should be able to fly? Let us know in the comments below.

The post What Can Land You on a No-Fly List? appeared first on CheapAir.