Big airlines ban firearms on flights to Washington, D.C.

Far fewer people are flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those who are seem more likely to try to bring firearms on the plane: The rate of passengers carrying guns through U.S. airport security tripled in July compared with the same month in 2020. This handgun was discovered in the carry-on bag of a passenger boarding a flight at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. (Photo courtesy of TSA/TNS)
Far fewer people are flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those who are seem more likely to try to bring firearms on the plane: The rate of passengers carrying guns through U.S. airport security tripled in July compared with the same month in 2020. This handgun was discovered in the carry-on bag of a passenger boarding a flight at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. (Photo courtesy of TSA/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

FAA also takes tougher line on unruly passengers, cites more incidents

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include actions by other major airlines.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are banning firearms on flights to Washington, D.C. in the wake of last week’s rioting at the U.S. Capitol and in preparation for the presidential inauguration next week.

The move by the large U.S. airlines came as the Federal Aviation Administration said this week it will crack down more forcefully against disruptive passengers, citing growing incidents of “threatening or violent behavior” stemming from continued protests tied to masks and last November’s elections.

The gun ban by Atlanta-based Delta applies to flights into Washington’s Dulles and Reagan National, Baltimore-Washington International and Richmond International airports Jan. 16-23.

Firearms already are not allowed in carry-ons, and on those flights to the Washington, D.C. area, guns will not be allowed in checked bags on Delta either. Credentialed law enforcement are the exception.

“We have put in place heightened security – both seen and unseen – to ensure everyone’s safety over the coming two weeks,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a memo to employees Friday.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport said it remains “hyper-vigilant” and is working with local, state, and federal partners to “monitor security concerns and ensure a safe environment.”

United and American said they will also ban firearms on flights to D.C.-area airports during the same period, with the exception of law enforcement and active-duty military traveling on orders. Southwest said it would also stop accepting guns on its flights to and from the D.C. area during the same period.

American also said it will not serve alcohol on flights to and from the Washington D.C. area Jan. 16-21 and will emphasize in pre-departure announcements the importance of following crew instructions and wearing masks.

The Transportation Security Administration and other law enforcement agencies have bolstered their presence at Washington, D.C. airports, according to Southwest Airlines. Southwest said it is increasing reminders about mask requirements and coordinating closely with the TSA on the federal no-fly list. The airline’s alcohol service on flights was already suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several airlines also said their flight crews in the capital will stay at hotels away from downtown.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed an order Wednesday for stricter enforcement against unruly passengers. The FAA said it “has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior” linked to refusals to wear masks and recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.

The FAA said rather than using warnings and counseling, it will pursue legal enforcement against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with airline crew members through March 30.

Last week, supporters of President Donald Trump heckled Sen. Mitt Romney on a Delta flight. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the airline has added passengers to its no-fly list over the last week. That includes passengers involved in the Romney incident who also were not wearing masks.

Bastian wrote in his Friday memo to employees that respect and civility, “even when we have differences of opinion,” are required of customers and employees. “Those who refuse to display basic civility to our people or their fellow travelers are not welcome on Delta,” Bastian wrote. “Their actions will not be tolerated, and they will not have the privilege of flying our airline ever again.”

He also said TSA is looking carefully at rioters who were in the Capitol building, and if the agency can identify people, “you’ll have people added to the (federal) no-fly list, no question about it.”

Delta already has 880 passengers on its no-fly list, a number that has grown over the last seven months with passengers who refused to wear masks on flights.

United said it has banned 615 people for violation of its mask policy, including about 60 last week.

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