Airlines are heightening security and imposing new regulations ahead of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration next week as Washington, D.C., prepares for more riots similar to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
At least four airlines announced additional security measures on Thursday as federal and local officials began increasing protection around the Capitol after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building in a deadly riot last week that led Congress to impeach him a second time.
“We’re all on high alert based on the events over the last couple weeks up in Washington,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC on Thursday. “We are doing an awful lot in terms of gathering the information, talking to all of the intelligence agencies, both federal and local, as well as FAA and TSA.”
“We’ve increased the amount of security both in the airports and in the sky, seen and unseen, and we’re going to be taking some additional measures in the coming days as we look to the week ahead.”
For Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines, those measures include banning passengers from carrying firearms in checked luggage on flights to Washington starting this weekend, with United saying its policy would go through Jan. 23. The only exceptions to this rule are authorized law enforcement officials and active-duty military members traveling on Defense Department orders.
The largest U.S. carrier still permitting passengers to carry weapons in their checked baggage is Southwest Airlines, which is considering a temporary change to the policy, the Financial Times reports.
Alaska Airlines also announced that passengers will not be allowed to leave their seats in the 60 minutes before landing and after takeoff from Washington-area airports.
Multiple airlines also said they plan to keep flight crews out of hotels in downtown Washington and increase staffing at Washington-area airports to supplement front-line teams during Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. American Airlines will also cut alcohol service on flights in and out of the city until Jan. 21.
The new regulations came a day after the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it would be taking a “zero-tolerance policy” toward unruly passengers, handing out punishments including “fines of up to $35,000 and possible imprisonment” without issuing any warnings.
“Recently, we’ve seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior. These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol. This dangerous behavior can distract, disrupt and threaten crew members’ safety functions,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a video released by the agency on Thursday.
“These recent events show that a change in our policy is necessary,” he continued. “This week, I signed an order directing FAA safety inspectors and attorneys to pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with airline crew members. We will not address these cases through warning or counseling. This policy is effective immediately, and will remain in effect through March 30, 2021.”
Local transit officials announced Wednesday that 13 subway stations in Washington will close this coming weekend until after Jan. 20, with affected stations landing within a planned “security perimeter” set up for the inauguration. During the closures, trains will “pass through the closed stations without stopping,” according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. More than two dozen bus routes will also be detoured around that perimeter starting Friday.
The city is essentially going on lockdown in anticipation of violence. Police vehicles sealed off a huge section of downtown on Wednesday, with Mayor Muriel Bowser saying that anyone inside the inauguration perimeter will be stopped and questioned. All parking garages in the downtown restricted area will be sealed through inauguration starting Friday.