Ban D.C. riot participants, flight attendants union urges airlines
Members of the mob that stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday should not be allowed to fly out of Washington, D.C., on commercial flights, said the nation’s largest flight attendants union and at least one Congress member, citing the fear of unrest and violence in the air.
The Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA called for the ban after several incidents of raucous, unruly behavior on flights into Washington in the days leading up to the riot, attributed to supporters of President Trump. And at an airport and on a flight this week, travelers heckled Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the few prominent Republicans to publicly criticize Trump.
“Acts against our democracy, our government, and the freedom we claim as Americans must disqualify these individuals from the freedom of flight,” association President Sara Nelson said in a statement. The union represents more than 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, supported the idea. On Thursday he urged the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI to “add the violent perpetrators involved in the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol yesterday to the No-Fly List and keep them off planes.”
In a statement, he said Trump followers acted like “unruly mobs” on flights into Washington. “It does not take much imagination to envision how they might act out on their way out of D.C. if allowed to fly unfettered,” Thompson said.
An email seeking comment from the FBI went unanswered Thursday night.
Nelson said the call to ban such fliers comes out of concern that the “mob mentality behavior that took place on several flights to the D.C. area” could happen again as those same travelers depart the capital. She urged the airlines to work in coordination with federal law enforcement agencies to “ensure the safety and security of passengers and crews by keeping all problems on the ground.”
A representative of the flight attendants union noted that flight manifests, which list the names of all passengers, are run through government security programs before each flight to track the movement of travelers suspected of terrorist activities. It’s unclear whether those programs would flag people suspected of participating in Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol or if additional steps would be needed.
TSA spokesman R. Carter Langston declined to discuss whether law enforcement can scan airline manifests to identify D.C. rioters, but he said “there are always multiple layers of security in place and that travelers may notice additional law enforcement and canine presence, especially when events justify an increased security posture.”
Airline officials noted that the TSA and other local and federal law enforcement agencies have bolstered their presence in the Washington-area airports.
The FBI has launched efforts to identify the people involved in the attempted pro-Trump insurrection.
In response to the ugly scene in the capital Wednesday, United Airlines said it has moved its crews away from downtown D.C. hotels and, along with American Airlines, has increased staffing at Washington-area airports to prevent disruptions at airports.
“We echo the sentiments of [the flight attendants union] that our first priority must be the safety and security of our passengers and crew,” United Airlines said in a statement.
American Airlines announced Thursday that it will not serve alcohol on flights to and from Washington on Thursday night.
“We will continue to enforce policies that ensure our customers’ and team members’ safety and wellbeing,” American Airlines spokesman Curtis Blessing said.
Southwest Airlines said its staff has yet to see any disruptions at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but “we are monitoring current events.”
Airline crews have been under added pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic as they try to enforce requirements that passengers wear face coverings except when eating and drinking. Many passengers have resisted following the mandate, creating confrontations with flight crews.
Airlines have banned hundreds of passengers for refusing to wear masks.
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