WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Major U.S. airlines are adopting heightened security measures ahead of next week’s presidential inauguration with several temporarily banning passengers from checking firearms to flights to Washington-area airports.
Delta Air Lines, American Airlines Co, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines said on Thursday they are temporarily banning checked firearms on Washington D.C.-area flights, among other measures.
Last week, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol and also disrupted some flights, stoking concerns about violence surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Alaska Airlines will require all passengers traveling to and from the D.C. metro to remain seated for one hour from take-off or landing. This is similar to a precaution taken after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when the U.S. government required all passengers bound for Washington National Airport to remain seated for 30 minutes before flights departed or arrived.
Hotels, airlines and other businesses ramped up security as authorities planned to deploy at least 20,000 National Guard troops in the city.
On Wednesday, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson signed an order directing the agency to take a “zero tolerance policy” on disruptive behavior.
Dickson told Reuters that through March 30, disruptive passengers could face up to $35,000 fines and possible jail time. He emphasized the FAA will not issue warning letters or negotiate penalties with first-time offenders.
Last week, supporters of Trump heckled U.S. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah on a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Washington.
American Airlines said it was suspending alcoholic beverage service on flights to and from Washington-area airports from Saturday through Jan. 21.
American is also “revising pre-departure announcements to further emphasize the importance of following crew member instructions and complying with mandatory face-covering policies.”
U.S. airlines and law enforcement agencies have bolstered security at Washington-area airports after last week’s events.
Airlines for America President Nick Calio praised “the FAA’s order to implement a more stringent policy regarding unruly passenger behavior.”
Airlines are also relocating crew member hotels from downtown to those closer to airports and increasing staffing at D.C. area airports.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)