The largest flight attendants union in the U.S. saw the mayhem in Washington, D.C. and urged airlines to try to identify and bar passengers who participated. A pro-Trump mob effectively shut down the city by invading and occupying the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes awarding the presidency to President-elect Joe Biden.
“Our first priority in aviation safety and security is to keep any problems on the ground,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), said in a statement released on Twitter. “Some of the people who traveled in our planes yesterday participated in the insurrection at the Capitol today,” she continued. “Their violent and seditious actions at the Capitol today create further concern about their departure from the D.C. area.”
Numerous reports of unruly passengers on Washington-bound flights Jan. 5 prompted Nelson to act. In a video widely circulated on Twitter, flight attendants struggled to maintain order as Trump supporters on their way to the capital for Wednesday’s protests hurled abuse at other passengers. Skift could not immediately confirm what airline operated the flight, although Twitter commenters suggested it was an American Airlines flight, and the flight landed safely at its destination.
“The mob mentality behavior that took place on several flights to the D.C. area yesterday was unacceptable and threatened the safety and security of every single person onboard,” Nelson said in response to the videos. “It will not happen again.”
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has frequently voiced his fierce opposition to President Donald Trump, similarly was accosted at the Salt Lake City airport on Jan. 5 as he was en route to Washington. In one video, a Trump supporter hurls epithets at the senator and urges him to resign, as the senator walks away. The harassment continued on his flight. Romney told media outlets he was “used to it.”
Law enforcement secured the Capitol by early Wednesday night. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser put the city under curfew from 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and urged the mob assembled outside the Capitol to return to their accommodations or their home states, as media in the crowd reported many had traveled from distant parts of the country. Nelson worried that many of the sometimes-violent protestors could board flights and take out their frustrations on flight attendants, flight crews, and other passengers.
“Acts against our democracy, our government, and the freedom we claim as Americans must disqualify these individuals from the freedom of flight,” she said. “We in aviation have a serious role to play in national security. Airlines, in coordination with TSA, DHS, FAA, DOT and law enforcement must take all steps to ensure the safety and security of passengers and crew by keeping all problems on the ground.”
Airlines have barred passengers for flouting mask requirements during the pandemic, but it would be highly unusual for them to ban passengers for participating in protests, unless those passengers were thought to be evading law enforcement. However, airlines frequently call law enforcement to detain a drunk, unruly, or misbehaving passenger upon landing. It remains unclear if any airlines will heed Nelson’s call.