American Airlines : U.S. House Democrats urge FAA to avoid civil unrest on flights

4 mins read
American Airlines : U.S. House Democrats urge FAA to avoid civil unrest on flights

(Recasts and updates throughout with evacuation of Southwest
flight after written threat, adds airline group reaction)

WASHINGTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) – Two senior House Democrats
urged the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday to take
steps to prevent the use of aircraft to transport people intent
on violently disrupting the inauguration of President-elect Joe
Biden.

Hours after the letter was sent, Southwest Airlines
said 95 passengers and six crew members had been evacuated from
a flight into Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood
Marshall Airport from Phoenix after crew identified a written
threat upon arrival earlier this evening. Southwest did not
provide details on the note or the threat and said no arrests
have been reported.

Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee, and Representative Rick Larsen who
oversees an aviation subcommittee, urged FAA Administrator Steve
Dickson in a letter first reported by Reuters “to limit the
chance that the nation’s commercial airline system could be used
as a means of mass transportation to Washington, D.C., for
further violence in connection with the inauguration” on Jan. 20
and to “prevent civil unrest from jeopardizing aviation safety
and leading to injury or worse during flight.”

“We respectfully urge the FAA and the aviation community to
think creatively on what authorities or additional measures will
reduce the possibility of unruly and disruptive behavior on
aircraft over the next nine days as well as that of
insurrectionists exploiting the freedom to fly to carry out
nefarious schemes against democracy,” the letter said.

The FAA said it would respond directly to the lawmakers.

On Saturday, Dickson vowed to take “strong enforcement
action” against unruly passengers following reports of
supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump disrupting flights
returning from Washington after rioters stormed the U.S.
Capitol.

Dickson said the “FAA will pursue strong enforcement action
against anyone who endangers the safety of a flight, with
penalties ranging from monetary fines to jail time.”

There have been numerous videos posted of unruly behavior on
Washington flights, including one American Airlines
flight to Phoenix in which the pilot threatened to divert “to
the middle of Kansas and dump people off.”

A trade group representing major U.S. airlines said it will
“continue to work collaboratively with these authorities and our
industry partners to provide a safe journey for travelers and
employees.”

The flight attendants union had urged airlines to bar Trump
supporters who stormed the Capitol from departing Washington on
commercial flights after exhibiting “mob mentality behavior” on
flights into the region.

Alaska Airlines said on Friday it banned 14
passengers from future travel after “unacceptable” behavior on a
flight from Washington to Seattle.

U.S airlines and law enforcement agencies have already
bolstered security at Washington-area airports.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was harassed on Friday by
supporters of Trump and called a “traitor” at Washington’s
Reagan National Airport before departing on a flight, according
to videos posted on social media.

Separately, Representative Bennie Thompson, who chairs the
Homeland Security Committee, and Representative John Katko, the
top Republican on the committee, asked the Transportation
Security Administration about its efforts to disrupt the travel
of “domestic terrorist groups who may be planning further
attacks and may be targeting next week’s inauguration.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson, additional reporting by Tracy
Rucinski; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Jane Wardell)