US airlines ban more passengers in wake of Capitol riot

EllenMoran/iStock

By MINA KAJI, GIO BENITEZ, SAM SWEENEY and AMANDA MAILE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- More than 2,000 people have been placed on U.S. airlines' internal no-fly lists since carriers stepped up enforcement of their mandatory mask requirements in June.

United Airlines told ABC News it has banned 60 people in the last week alone which is higher than their previous week averages.

Many of the instances over the past week appear to be politically motivated, with people flying to and from Washington, D.C., following the riot on Capitol Hill.

Alaska Airlines banned 14 passengers on a single flight from D.C. to Seattle one day after the riot because the airline said they were not wearing masks and harassing crew members.

Two days after the Capitol Hill riot, on an American flight that was en route from D.C. to Phoenix, passenger videos showed the pilot threatened to divert to Kansas if passengers didn't "behave."

Passengers were chanting "USA" and "Fight For Trump," according to videos of the incident.

The chanters eventually heeded the captain's warnings and the flight continued uninterrupted.

American said in a statement to ABC News that the pilot was "emphasizing the importance of following crew member instructions and complying with mandatory face-covering policies."

These politically motivated mask disputes continued throughout the weekend.

On Sunday a woman flying from Charlotte, North Carolina, to D.C. was filmed refusing to wear a mask and shouting in the aisle. The passenger who captured the video said the woman was yelling about "tyranny."

"If we don't stand up, it's only going to get worse," she says in the clip.

Federal air marshals had to intervene to de-escalate the situation. American confirmed the woman is now banned from the airline pending further investigation.

"To say I am worried about our Flight Attendants' safety is an understatement," Julie Hedrick, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said in a statement last week. "We experienced multiple incidents on various flights headed to Washington, D.C. During these incidents, some of which broadcasted over social media, flight attendants were forced to confront passengers exhibiting politically motivated aggression towards other passengers and crew."

She said that "racial epithets were hurled towards a black flight attendant as they rode to the DCA airport in the hotel shuttle" and other flight attendants were met by "a group of passengers [who] removed their masks after takeoff and harassed them."

These instances prompted Federal Aviation Administration Chief Steve Dickson to issue a stern warning on Saturday to unruly passengers. He said in a statement that the FAA will pursue "stong enforcement action against anyone who endangers the safety of a flight" with penalties ranging from fines of up to $35,000 and imprisonment.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wrote to Dickson on Monday saying, "we implore you to enforce vigorously these authorities and pursue civil penalties for no less than the maximum amount authorized in law -- $35,000 per violation -- to deter unruly passengers from acting in such a manner."

Lawmakers have been pressuring the Department of Homeland Security to place rioters who were at the Capitol on the federal no-fly list.

"Anyone who was part of the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 should be placed on a TSA no-fly list," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We cannot allow these same insurrectionists to get on a plane and cause more violence and more damage. These individuals are a threat to the homeland as defined by the law."

Last week Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., urged the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation "to use their authorities to add the violent perpetrators involved in the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol to the no-fly list and keep them off planes."

"TSA is always on high alert," the agency said in response to ABC News. "We prepare for all contingencies. For security reasons we do not discuss the details other than to confirm that there are always multiple layers of security in place and that travelers may notice additional law enforcement and canine presence, especially when events justify an increased security posture. As it relates to the No Fly list, we will accommodate FBI requests and congressional authorizations related to no fly lists."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.