Airlines Tighten Security Ahead of Inauguration Day

Major airlines are taking action to prevent more violence in America's capital

Business people standing at baggage claim
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Following last week's deadly insurrection in Washington, D.C.—and with increasing reports saying more lawlessness is likely during President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week—major U.S. airlines are taking further action to discourage additional violent acts in America's capital.

Starting this weekend, the country's three major airlines—Delta, United, and American—have banned firearms from checked luggage on flights headed to the D.C. metro area, except for law enforcement agents.

This step is one of many that Ed Bastian, Delta's CEO, says the company is taking to help ensure the safety of its passengers. "We’re all on high alert based on the events over the last couple of weeks in Washington," Bastian told CNBC. For Delta, the ban will be in effect from Saturday, Jan. 16, through Jan. 23.

Alaska Airlines, which banned 14 maskless passengers after a particularly eventful flight from D.C. last week, said they too would ban checked firearms on flights to the area, as well as begin enforcing a stricter mask policy. The airline will also require passengers to wait in their seats for an hour before take-off and upon landing, a policy similar to one enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks, and introduce new procedures for returning to the gate or diverting in the event of an issue on-board.

These new policies cover flights going into Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Richmond International Airport (RIC). 

American Airlines will also be suspending alcoholic beverage service on flights to and from the D.C. area airports between Jan. 16 and Jan. 21.

In the past week, following the violence at the Capitol, multiple carriers have had to deal with badly behaved passengers on flights to and from D.C.

On a recent American Airlines flight from Reagan International Airport to Phoenix, a group of rowdy, maskless passengers starting chanting "USA! USA!," prompting the pilot to warn the mob that he would divert the plane, if necessary. “We'll put this plane down in the middle of Kansas and dump people off," the pilot said. "I don't care." The flight continued without issue.

Lawmakers traveling back and forth between D.C. and their home states have been subjected to verbal assaults at airports, as well. Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham were accosted by groups of passengers, prompting Delta to add the offenders to its no-fly list, said Bastian in an interview with Reuters.

In light of this and many similar incidents over the past few weeks, the FAA will introduce stricter enforcement, too. The agency announced that unruly passengers will no longer get warnings. Rather, it will seek jail time and fines of up to $35,000 for passengers who assault or threaten airline crews or other passengers.

 To date, nearly 3,000 people have been banned from flying on major airlines. The majority of these are related to non-compliance with mask policies, but airlines say dozens of recent additions are due to the riots at the Capitol building.

Article Sources
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  1. Federal Aviation Administration. "Federal Aviation Administration Adopts Stricter Unruly Passenger Policy." Jan. 13, 2021