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Airlines got a preview of the mood of President Donald Trump's supporters when in-flight tussles emerged on flights into Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. And after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, they aren't taking any chances on what might unfold as the election protesters fly home.
American Airlines has increased staffing at the three D.C.-area airports – Reagan National and Dulles International in Virginia and Baltimore/Washington International in Maryland – and is halting liquor sales on flights to and from the airports, spokesman Curtis Blessing said.
"At American, safety is our highest priority,'' the airline said in a statement. "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 union representing American's flight attendants told members to be on alert.
"Remain extra vigilant on flights departing from the Washington, D.C., area for the next few days, and involve your fellow crewmembers if you have safety concerns,'' Julie Hedrick, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in a letter to American's 27,000 flight attendants. "Our primary role is safety, and these disruptions have never been and will not be tolerated.''
At Reagan National Airport, the closest airport to the Capitol, airport officials were expecting an increase in travel Thursday but nothing compared with pre-pandemic levels, spokeswoman Christina Saull said.
"People can expect to see an increased law enforcement presence as they travel through the airport,'' she told USA TODAY.
At lunchtime Thursday, the terminals were quiet and empty as a few people, some without masks, wore Trump apparel and waited for their flights home.
A group of TSA agents who were on break but declined to give their names to a USA TODAY reporter said they hadn't experienced any rowdy passengers or problems out of the ordinary Thursday. Every day, some flyers decline to wear their masks and give them a little trouble, so Thursday wasn't any different.
"People are just people," one said.
Southwest Airlines told its flight attendants in a memo Thursday that federal law enforcement officials have increased their presence on flights into and out of Reagan National and that security has been bolstered at the airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport, where it has one of its largest operations.
It was the second memo to flight attendants in as many days. After Wednesday's riots, Sonya Lacore, vice president of in-flight operations, sent a memo about the unrest and its potential impact on the airline.
"We understand that some demonstrators may be Southwest customers who flew on us to Washington and will soon be returning home,'' she said in the memo. "While our unwavering focus continues to be on safely transporting our customers to their destinations, we must remain on alert for any disruptive activity.''
Lacore said Southwest will continued to make sure all customers are properly wearing a face mask and urged flight attendants to "maintain their professionalism'' and try to address any incidents before they escalate.
"If it becomes clear that defusing the situation will not be possible, we trust your good judgement in removing yourself from the situation when you deem appropriate to avoid further escalation,'' Lacore said.
Delta did not reveal specific measures it is taking, but spokesman Morgan Durrant said "there's nothing more important than protecting the integrity of the safety and security measures that keep our employees and customers safe.''
"Delta continually works with law enforcement agencies and all aviation stakeholders to enact methods – both seen and unseen – as part of our unwavering efforts to keep everyone safe at our airports and on our flights.''
The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents flight attendants at United, Frontier and more than 15 other airlines, suggested people who stormed the Capitol and were involved in the incidents on flights headed to Washington on Tuesday should be banned from flying.
In one viral incident, Mitt Romney was heckled at the Salt Lake City airport and on a Delta flight Tuesday. In another, Trump supporters accused other passengers of threatening them on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Washington.
"Our first priority in aviation safety and security is to keep any problems on the ground. Some of the people who traveled in our planes yesterday participated in the insurrection at the Capitol today,'' union president Sara Nelson said in a press release. "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.''
(5/6) Acts against our democracy, our government and the freedom we claim as Americans must disqualify these individuals from the freedom of flight.
— AFA-CWA (@afa_cwa) January 6, 2021
The union said airlines will work with law enforcement to identify riot participants in its bid to "keep all problems on the ground.''
United Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott echoed the sentiments of the AFA about safety and security of passengers and crew being its first priority.
United and other carriers said they will continue to enforce mask policies in place since the coronavirus pandemic began. Trump supporters, and the president, often flout mask requirements.
One protester headed from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday was removed from an American Airlines flight over mask issues.
Contributing: Ryan Miller
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Capitol riot aftermath: Airlines beef up security on DC flights