Delta, United and American Airlines are refusing to allow passengers travelling to Washington next week to pack firearms in their checked luggage, citing safety concerns.
United and American joined Delta on Thursday in taking the new safety measure as security in the US capital was ramped up in advance of Joe Biden’s inauguration as president on January 20. The airlines will begin enforcing the ban this weekend, and United said its policy would last until January 23.
The airlines will continue to allow law enforcement officers to carry weapons in the baggage hold.
Southwest Airlines is now the largest US carrier still allowing all passengers to carry weapons in their checked baggage. The Dallas-based airline said it was considering a temporary change to its policy.
US airlines, their employees, federal agencies and lawmakers are grappling with aviation security in the wake of the January 6 riot at the US Capitol building. There have been multiple reports of Trump supporters causing disruptions on flights and at airports as they have travelled to and from Washington.
Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, said he expected more names to be added to the federal no-fly list as a result of last week’s attack.
The US Transportation Security Administration was studying who was involved in the riot, Mr Bastian said on Thursday. The list of people banned from flying on any US airline — a counter-terrorism measure established after the September 11 2001 attacks — is likely to expand based on the agency’s examination of the destructive sweep through the halls of Congress.
Atlanta-based Delta has more than 800 names on an internal list of people barred from its aircraft, either for refusing to wear a mask as it has mandated to help curb the spread of Covid-19, or for other disruptive behaviour. Some, though “not a huge number”, were added since last week, said Glen Hauenstein, the airline’s president.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday that it “has seen a disturbing increase in incidents” that “have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the US Capitol”.
Steve Dickson, head of the FAA, signed an order on Wednesday directing airlines to dispense with warnings for unruly passengers and skip straight to legal enforcement, with maximum penalties including a $35,000 fine and imprisonment. The order, praised by the trade group Airlines for America, is in effect until March 30.
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation, and I signed this order to keep it that way,” he said.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US Senate, called on the FBI on Tuesday to add the names of participants in the Capitol riots to the federal no-fly list. There have been multiple reports of disturbances in the days leading up to and following the assault — on one flight from Texas, video on social media showed an individual projecting Trump imagery on the roof of a darkened cabin, causing passengers to descend into yelling and threats.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the largest US flight attendants union, decried “the mob mentality” on the Texas flight.
“Our first priority in aviation safety and security is to keep any problems on the ground,” she said.
Delta’s Mr Bastian told the Financial Times in a separate interview that he was “horrified” by the riot, and to see “democracy and rule of law, all of it under attack, [and] being encouraged by our sitting president”.
United and American moved flight crews out of hotels in downtown Washington during the unrest. United has banned 615 passengers for not complying with its mask policy since it was implemented last year, including 60 over the course of last week.
“We appreciate the FAA’s attention and swift action on this important issue to further ensure the safety of our crews and passengers,” United said.
American declined to say how many passengers it had banned for not following its face mask policy.