- Airlines are stepping up their security measures on flights to Washington, DC ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
- “These new security measures are more extensive and stringent compared to those implemented after 9/11,” industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group told Insider.
- Alaska Airlines is enacting the most stringent policies that restrict ticket sales on Washington flights and when passengers can leave their seats.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
It’s been less than two weeks since Washington, DC was rocked by an assault on the US Capitol Building as rioters attempted to prevent the certification of the Electoral College. Now, as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to be sworn into office on Wednesday, airlines are doing their part.
New security measures are being implemented on flights to and from the nation’s capital starting this weekend with the hopes of preventing another day of violence. Airlines are keen not to repeat the mistakes of last week as the days surrounding the Capitol riots saw increased tensions in the nation’s skies.
“These new security measures are more extensive and stringent compared to those implemented after 9/11,” industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group told Insider.
Delta Air Lines has already banned six passengers who had been harassing Utah Senator Mitt Romney and running afoul of the airline’s face mask rule. The senator was accosted in the airport terminal and endured chants of “traitor” while in the air for opposing President Donald Trump.
Rioters were also able to board flights home amidst the chaos of the last week, despite the best efforts of local authorities to stop them from boarding flights. Onboard disturbances were a reoccurring theme as Phoenix-bound American Airlines plane erupted in “USA” chants while non-compliance with mask requirements saw Alaska Airlines ban 14 passengers.
Here’s how airlines are doing their part to protect the inauguration.
No weapons allowed
All major US airlines that fly to Washington’s two area airports will prohibit passengers from transporting firearms in their checked luggage in the days surrounding the inauguration on flights to and from the region. That list includes American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.
Each airline is different in its restrictions but some include other area airports as far away as Baltimore/Washington International in Maryland and Richmond International in Virginia. Unloaded legal firearms are typically allowed to be transported in checked baggage as long as they are in a locked case.
Spirit Airlines is banning firearms on flights to Baltimore as the airline does not fly to either or Washington’s local airports. Allegiant Air, which only serves Baltimore and has a total of eight flights between January 16 and January 23 to and from the city, is not banning firearms, a spokesperson confirmed to Insider.
Harteveldt said he doesn’t recall any firearms restrictions on flights to Washington following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Some airlines are allowing those passengers who had planned on transporting firearms will be allowed to change their flights free of charge and allowing exemptions for law enforcement and active-duty military personnel.
Staying seated while near the capital
Alaska Airlines will require passengers to stay seated on the first hour of a flight from Washington or Baltimore or the last hour of a flight when arriving in the two cities.
The policy builds upon a safety measure enacted after the 2001 terrorist attacks where passengers couldn’t get out of their seats when within 30 minutes of Washington on a flight to or from National Airport. Alaska’s policy adds an additional 30 minutes to the 9/11-era rule and expands it to Dulles International and Baltimore/Washington International, Harteveldt told Insider.
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“I do recall taking a shuttle flight from LaGuardia to National when the policy was in effect,” Harteveldt said. “The gate agent reminded us of the restriction several times before boarding, and encouraged passengers to use the restrooms before boarding due to the short flight, which would require we be seated for its duration.”
Flights between New York and Washington regularly take less than an hour once airborne.
“Onboard, the flight attendants said that we couldn’t even stand up to retrieve or place something in the overhead bin, and told us that if we needed something, such as a computer bag, to let them know,” Harteveldt said.
No other airline has enacted a similar policy.
A temporary prohibition movement on flights
American Airlines will not be serving alcohol on its flights to and from Washington and Baltimore between January 16 and January 21, a spokesperson told Insider. This policy was also enacted in the days surrounding last week’s riots.
The airline currently doesn’t sell alcohol in economy; rather, alcoholic drinks are only served to first class passengers on most domestic flights. Airlines have largely stopped serving alcohol in economy as a result of the pandemic.
Harteveldt told Insider that no such restrictions were enacted post-9/11 and no other airline told Insider that alcohol sales would be put on hold.
Limiting ticket sales on DC-bound flights
Alaska Airlines will be limiting ticket sales on its flight to Washington and Baltimore to stem the flow of travelers to the region. The inauguration has gone mostly virtual as concerns of a super-spreader event have prompted authorities to warn against travel.
“To support law enforcement’s calls to avoid travel to the area, we will limit the number of tickets purchased on flights to and from the DC metro area,” the airline said in a statement.
No other airline has told Insider that they would be limiting ticket sales. The Seattle-based airline flies to Washington and Baltimore from Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Ensuring mask compliance
Mask enforcement will be a top priority on flights to and from the region, multiple airlines told Insider, after onboard incidents following the Capitol riots involved passengers defying mask-wearing policies.
The number of passengers banned by airlines for not wearing masks only increased in the days following the Capitol riots. A single Alaska flight saw 14 passengers banned for non-compliance while United banned 60 passengers during the week of January 4 alone, a spokesperson told Insider.
Sun Country Airlines, which doesn’t currently fly to Washington, also reported an uptick in mask incidents following last week. American will update its pre-departure announcements to stress the importance of wearing a mask while flying.
Airlines have been tough on mask enforcement as wearing a covering has been proven by the Department of Defense and Harvard School of Public Health studies to curb the onboard spread of coronavirus, and airlines don’t want to jeopardize the fragile recovery by appearing lax on enforcement. Currently, the only exception is for actively eating and drinking.
Most airlines will remove passengers from the banned list once the pandemic is over and the rule is no longer in effect unless the banned person commits another offense that warrants a longer ban.
Support from the federal government
To top it off, the Federal Aviation Administration is continuing to warn passengers that any unruly behavior can result in jail time and a fine of up to $35,000. Administrator Steve Dickson on Wednesday also enacted a zero-tolerance policy through March 30, 2021, that could land flyers in legal trouble.
“Effective immediately, however, the FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counseling,” the FAA said in a statement. “The agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members”
Wearing a mask is currently not required by federal law but the FAA has brought civil charges against passengers who have refused to cooperate with airline mask policies. The strongest punishment recommended by the FAA in those charges is a $15,000 fine for a passenger who the agency says “screamed obscenities at and hit a flight attendant” before grabbing a phone the flight attendant was using to talk to the pilot and causing the flight to divert.
Most airlines have also cited increased coordination with law enforcement authorities, as well as an increase in airport staffing.