Airlines and airports are stepping up security ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week, while the Federal Aviation Administration has announced that it will deal with stubborn passengers with heavy fines.
The measures stem from last week’s violent pro-Trump uprising in the U.S. Capitol, an FBI warning of possible armed protests and a series of politically motivated riots on flights and airports.
“Reagan National and Dulles International are operating normally, and passengers can expect an increased law enforcement presence until the president’s inauguration next week,” said Christina Saull, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
The New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which operates the three largest airports in the tri-state region, also said it is increasing the police presence there. Los Angeles International Airport “is improving our operational procedures for the upcoming inauguration of the US President in 2021,” a spokeswoman told CNBC. “We are ready to respond to anything happening in LAX.”
United Airlines will have more employees at airports in the Washington, DC area, including the hubs in Dulles, Virginia, and crews at airport hotels outside of downtown, through January 21, said spokeswoman Leslie Scott. The Chicago-based airline is working with local and state law enforcement agencies to determine if any other changes are needed to crew accommodation, such as demonstrations in state capitals, Scott said.
American Airlines also plans to step up security prior to the inauguration. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline last week added staff at the airport, discontinued alcohol service on flights to and from the DC area and moved crews to airport hotels.
Airline unions have raised security concerns following several onboard incidents over the past eight days and following the pro-Trump uprising.
Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney was labeled a traitor on a Delta flight to Washington, DC last week. On an American Airlines flight, a passenger projected “Trump 2020” onto the wall of a darkened cabin when travelers got into a heated political argument and yelled at and cursed each other.
Alaska Airlines said Friday it banned 14 passengers taking a flight from Washington, DC, to Seattle and refusing to wear masks, a requirement for air travel during the coronavirus pandemic, and “vocal, argumentative and harassing our crew members “Speaker Said Ray Lane.
Also last week, a video on social media showed supporters of President Donald Trump Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., calling a “traitor” at Reagan National Airport to confirm the November presidential election result.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an ordinance on Wednesday, effective through the end of March, to penalize recalcitrant air travelers or those who attack, threaten or intimidate crews. The fines are up to $ 35,000.
“The FAA has seen a worrying increase in incidents in which passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior,” the agency said in a press release. “These incidents stem from both the refusal of passengers to wear masks and the recent violence in the US Capitol.”
Two key House Democrats called on Dickson and the FAA earlier this week to take further steps to keep airports safe. Democratic Senate Chairman Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called for members of the mob that stormed the Capitol to be placed on the federal “no-fly” list.
The airlines keep their own lists of travelers banned from their planes and added more than 2,100 people to those lists for failing to comply with pandemic-related mask guidelines.
Airbnb said Wednesday it would cancel and block new reservations in Washington, DC during housewarming week. The company said it had already identified “numerous” individuals who were either linked to hate groups or otherwise involved in the riot and banned them from the Airbnb platform.
Hyatt plans to add safety and health protocols to its Washington DC area hotels, according to a spokesman.
“Additional security measures could include increasing the number of security staff, restricting hotel access to only registered guests, adjusting staffing levels and working with local authorities,” he said in an email.
Hilton said it has no plans to cancel customer reservations in Washington, but it is waiving cancellation fees for housewarming week bookings.
“Our hotel teams, especially those in Washington DC, are very experienced and have a long history of successfully managing major public events,” said Meg Ryan, spokeswoman for Hilton. “They continue to review the hotel’s security procedures and their preparation is well informed and takes into account current events.”