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Airlines Brace For Flight Disruptions By Trump Supporters Ahead Of Inauguration

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There will be no tolerance for disruptive behavior on commercial airline flights. That is the order from the FAA in response to some recent confrontations involving Trump supporters on flights to and from Washington, D.C., last week. And some airlines are temporarily banning firearms from checked luggage ahead of President-elect Biden's inauguration. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Even before the siege on the U.S. Capitol Building, some disruptive Trump supporters were causing chaos in some not-so-friendly skies.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAPER: This is from cellphone video of some Trump supporters berating fellow passengers and flight attendants on an American Airlines flight from Texas to Washington last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Stand up, piece of [expletive]. We want to see what you look like.

SCHAPER: On a flight from Salt Lake City, the president's supporters heckled Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Traitor. Traitor. Traitor.

SCHAPER: And Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley saw similar behavior at Reagan National Airport while waiting to board his flight home to Chicago last Thursday.

MIKE QUIGLEY: They were making threats to the vice president. They were abusive.

SCHAPER: Quigley says that unruly behavior continued on the plane.

QUIGLEY: The flight attendants were telling people to put their mask up. And there was verbal abuse and, you know, that sort of physical intimidation that they're fond of doing of being very close to someone when they're yelling.

SCHAPER: Quigley gives United Airlines high marks, as the flight crew made everyone get off the plane and waiting police arrested the most belligerent passengers. But when unruly passengers start acting up at 30,000 feet, it's a different situation, with flight attendants left to deal with the disruption themselves. Taylor Garland of the Association of Flight Attendants says the recent mid-flight incidents raise serious safety concerns.

TAYLOR GARLAND: This isn't one or two people on the plane. This is a mob mentality onboard, which presents different issues than a standard unruly passenger incident.

SCHAPER: So federal authorities are cracking down. The head of the FAA signed a strict zero-tolerance order yesterday, meaning those who threaten, assault, intimidate or interfere with airline crew members or other passengers could face fines of up to $35,000 and even jail time. The order even applies to those who refuse to wear masks. The airlines and their unions applaud the FAA action, but some want to go even further, saying those who took part in the siege in the Capitol last week should be added to the TSA's no-fly list. Here's Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Ahead of the concern for possible future attacks and with the law on our side, we are to say that these insurrectionists, many of whom are known to be at large, should not be able to hop on a flight.

SCHAPER: Bryan Del Monte worked on counterterrorism issues in the Defense Department and is now an aviation consultant. He considers the unruly behavior on flights to and from Washington last week a serious national security threat.

BRYAN DEL MONTE: These people seem exceptionally brazen and emboldened. They don't believe there'll be consequences. It's disconcerting.

SCHAPER: And Del Monte agrees that those who participated in the insurrection at the Capitol should be placed on the no-fly list.

DEL MONTE: I don't think that there should be a lot of controversy that individuals that engaged in attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit sedition or committed sedition against the United States government probably shouldn't be allowed on aircraft anymore in the United States.

SCHAPER: Several airlines have banned dozens of travelers who caused disruptions last week from flying again. And travelers are already seeing increased security at airports from local police and an alphabet soup of federal agencies, including the FBI and TSA. David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "MOON AT NOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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