Jan 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Unruly mob on D.C. flight adds new security task for flight crews

American Airlines is investigating an unruly and frightening episode on a flight to Washington, D.C., the night before a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's election.

Why it matters: Pilots and flight attendants are trained to keep passengers safe in the air and, since 9/11, to be on the lookout for potential terrorists. But in these extraordinary times, their duties have expanded to include mask enforcement and now, apparently, quelling civil unrest.

Driving the news: In a darkened airplane cabin, passengers flying from Dallas to Washington Tuesday evening are heard shouting obscenities at a fellow traveler while a large Trump logo is projected on the plane's ceiling, according to a Tweet posted by independent journalist Maranie Staab.

  • After the cabin lights come on, one man wearing a camouflage cap is clearly heard saying: "These are the guys we came to f--king wipe out."
  • Then a woman, presumably a flight attendant, can be heard over the public address system: "I'm talking to you in the aisle, have a seat please. Now."
  • American Airlines flight 1291 arrived safely at Dulles International Airport (IAD) at 9:36pm ET.

Of note: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was heckled on a flight from Salt Lake City to Washington ahead of Wednesday's certification vote.

  • Fellow passengers chanted "Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!" according to one video shared on Twitter.

What they're saying: "At American, safety is our highest priority. We are working closely with local law enforcement and airport authority partners to ensure the safety of our customers and team members on the ground and in the air," the airline said in a statement.

  • "We have also increased staffing at DC-area airports as a precautionary measure and will not be serving alcohol on flights to and from this area.
  • "We will continue to enforce policies that ensure our customers' and team members' safety and wellbeing."

Airline crews want to see the rioters banned from flying.

  • "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. It will not happen again," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) International, in a statement.
  • "Their violent and seditious actions at the Capitol today create further concern about their departure from the DC area. Acts against our democracy, our government and the freedom we claim as Americans must disqualify these individuals from the freedom of flight."
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