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Most major U.S. airlines ban guns in luggage for Washington flights

Transportation Security Administration officers at a screening area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Transportation Security Administration officers at a screening area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in May.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Airlines and airports say they are stepping up security before next week’s presidential inauguration, with Delta and other major carriers saying they will prohibit passengers flying to the Washington, D.C., area from putting guns in checked bags.

The moves follow the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Trump, as well as politically charged confrontations on some flights.

Delta Air Lines was the first to announce Thursday that it would prohibit checking guns to Washington-area airports, followed later in the day by United, Alaska, American and Southwest. All said their bans would start Saturday and run until Jan. 23. Inauguration Day is Wednesday, Jan. 20.

“We are all on high alert based on the events over the last couple weeks up in Washington,” Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said Thursday on CNBC.

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Spirit and JetBlue did not respond to requests for comment.

Airlines also announced other precautions. American will not serve alcohol on flights to and from the Washington area — flights go dry starting Saturday through next Thursday. Several airlines are moving crews out of downtown Washington hotels for their safety.

The total number of firearms uncovered by the TSA dropped, but the number per passenger leaped. Most of the guns were loaded, the agency said.

Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was increasing enforcement of rules against interfering with or assaulting crew members or other passengers. The agency said that for the next two months it will stop giving warnings to violators and will instead refer their cases to law enforcement for potential charges, fines and jail terms.

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FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson cited recent disturbances on planes, adding there has been “a trend after the breach of the Capitol last week.”

Key lawmakers and the head of the nation’s largest flight attendants union have asked the FBI to place Capitol rioters on the federal no-fly list. An FBI spokesman declined to say whether any have been added, although an FBI official said Tuesday that such a move was being considered.

So far, it has fallen on the airlines to prevent in-flight incidents from getting out of control by threatening to ban people who refuse to wear masks or who ignore flight attendants’ orders.

Early last week, several Trump supporters in an airport and on a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Washington heckled Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has criticized Trump and voted last year to remove him from office. Bastian said the hecklers were identified with help from airline employees and other passengers.

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The nation’s largest flight attendants union calls on airlines to ban D.C. riot participants from taking airline flights out of the Washington area.

“There are six people, and they will never fly Delta again,” Bastian told the Associated Press. “They have already been notified.”

A few days later, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was harassed at Reagan Washington National Airport after voting to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. Around the same time, Alaska Airlines said it banned 14 passengers who harassed crew members and refused to wear masks during a flight from the D.C. area to Seattle.

Bastian said Delta had “significantly increased our security both seen and unseen on board planes and in airports” before Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

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American was also adding more security staff at Washington-area airports for the week, and was changing its gate announcements to remind passengers to follow crew instructions and wear masks, said spokesman Curtis Blessing.

The airline is also moving flight crews from downtown Washington hotels to ones closer to the airports, and hiring private transportation for them.

Why so many military veterans and former and current police officers support — and take part in — far-right groups and protests, including the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Last week, passengers on a shuttle to Reagan airport made racial slurs against a Black flight attendant, according to the union representing American’s flight attendants.

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Travelers going through Reagan National or Dulles International Airport outside Washington should expect more police presence through the inauguration, said Micah Lillard, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Jeffrey Price, an aviation security expert at Metropolitan State University in Denver, said the federal government should deploy more air marshals and other personnel on planes flying to and from the D.C. area.

“There have been too many incidents of flight disruptions, and flight crew should not be expected to handle these, lest they turn violent,” he said.

A Homeland Security Department spokesman declined to discuss staffing decisions Thursday, although an announcement could be made soon.

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Price also said that it is “a good idea” to prohibit passengers from putting guns in checked bags if they are flying to Washington.

“After inauguration I think we can lift the ban on checked firearms,” he said.

Federal law allows passengers to put guns in checked baggage if they are unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided case, although airlines have the discretion to ban guns. Federal law prohibits guns or ammunition in carry-on bags.

Two days after the Capitol attack, TSA screeners at Reagan airport stopped a departing passenger who had 100 bullets in his carry-on bag. It is not unusual for people to have guns or ammunition in their carry-ons — they usually say they forgot, and are rarely prosecuted — but the timing of the incident drew notice.


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