Washington tightens airline and airport security, citing ’mob mentality’ among passengers
By Ian Duncan
WASHINGTON - The District of Columbia’s airports and the airlines that fly into them tightened security on Thursday after deadly riots at the US Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Rob Yingling, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles International airports, said that they remained open but that travellers should expect to see "an increased law enforcement presence as they travel through the airport." Yingling said passenger counts were also likely to be higher than normal during the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials with American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines said they also were taking additional security measures in the Washington region.
American and United increased staffing and said they were working closely with law enforcement. Charles Hobart, a United spokesman, said the company would "continuously monitor the situation in real time."
American decided to stop offering alcohol in first class on Thursday on flights in the D.C. region. The airline already had halted alcohol service in economy class in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We will continue to enforce policies that ensure our customers' and team members' safety and well-being," the airline said in a statement.
Delta said in a memo to employees that it urged crews with layovers in Washington to remain in their hotels and would increase security at National, Dulles and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports in ways "both seen and unseen."
A spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration declined to comment on specific safety measures but said the agency is prepared.
"The TSA is always on high alert. We prepare for all contingencies," said spokesman Carter Langston. "For security reasons we do not discuss the details other than to confirm that there are always multiple layers of security in place, especially when events justify an increased security posture."
On Wednesday night, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union called for people involved in the insurrection at the Capitol to be barred from flying. Sara Nelson, the union's president, described a "mob mentality" among some passengers on flights into the Washington area ahead of protests that devolved into rioting.
"Their violent and seditious actions at the Capitol today create further concern about their departure from the D.C. area," Nelson said in a Wednesday statement. "Acts against our democracy, our government and the freedom we claim as Americans must disqualify these individuals from the freedom of flight."
On Thursday, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee also called on federal officials to add those involved in the attack on the Capitol to the federal No Fly List.
"Given the heinous domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol yesterday, I am urging the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to use their authorities to add the names of all identified individuals involved in the attack to the federal No-Fly List and keep them off planes," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement.
He said the list should include all individuals who entered the Capitol.
Violence during the riots resulted in nearly 100 arrests, the fatal shooting of a woman in the Capitol and canisters of tear gas fired across its Rotunda. Crews on Thursday were erecting a seven-foot-tall fence around the Capitol that officials said would be in place for 30 days.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a Trump opponent, was heckled by the president's supporters as he flew to Washington this week. A Washington Post photographer on Tuesday saw people escorted off a plane bound for Washington.
Hobart, the United spokesman, whose crews are represented by the union, said that the company echoed Nelson's statement and that its employees had been moved out of downtown Washington hotels since Monday.
In the staff memo, Delta said it already was pursuing action against people who disrupted flights and would continue to do so.
A spokesman for BWI referred questions to the TSA. Southwest Airlines, which has a major operation at the airport, declined to comment on security.