How airlines are responding to Wednesday's siege at the US Capitol as they're faced with the prospect of flying rioters home

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  • Airlines are preparing for the worst as protests in Washington, DC turned into riots on Wednesday, and some participants will now be boarding aircraft to fly home. 
  • Some airlines are banning alcohol on their flights departing Washington and moving their flight crews out of downtown hotels.
  • Protesters harassed and heckled Utah Senator Mitt Romney while on a Tuesday flight to Washington.
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Wednesday’s “Stop the Steal” rally-turned-riot in Washington, DC drew in Americans from coast to coast.

Acting Washington Police Chief Robert Contee said in a Thursday afternoon news conference that out of the 68 rioters they arrested, only 1 was actually from the District of Columbia. The arrest data suggests a large number of out-of-town visitors, many of whom flew to Washington on commercial airlines.

And as the dust settles on an unprecedented raid on the US Capitol Building, those rioters are now heading home, with airlines gearing up for the worst. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called for rioters to be banned from flights departing from the capital and Contee said that his department is enlisting the help of local airports by sharing images of rioters. 

The Federal Aviation Administration says that “unruly behavior” onboard an airline can result in fines up to $35,000. But that didn’t stop the soon-to-be rioters from targeting a Republican politician while on a Delta Air Lines flight bound for Washington on Tuesday.

Multiple passengers were filmed harassing Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a long-time Trump rival who was the only Republican that voted to remove the president from office during the 2020 impeachment trial vote. One passenger even approached a masked Romney at the airport, criticizing him for not interfering in the Electoral College certification. 

Insider reached out to all seven major US airlines that serve Washington’s Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport to see how they are responding to Wednesday’s riots. 

American Airlines

American Airlines has a large presence in Washington, serving both of its airports and maintaining a hub at National Airport. 

“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,” an airline spokesperson told Insider. “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.”

American flight crews will also avoid downtown Washington and stay in hotels closer to the airports while on layovers in the nation’s capital. 

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines serves both of Washington’s airports, with service from its hubs across the country. 

Video: Trump supporters on American Airlines flight clash with passengers on plane to DC (FOX News)

    A Delta spokesperson told Insider: “There’s nothing more important than protecting the integrity of the safety and security measures that keep our employees and customers safe.”

    Asked about rioters potentially flying home on Delta flights, the spokesperson also told Insider: “As a values-led company, we expect our people and customers to treat one another with dignity and respect as we safely fly them to their destinations, including wearing of masks and following all instructions from Delta people at the airport and on-board.”

    CEO Ed Bastian also wrote an internal memo to employees with his reaction to the riots.

    “I am grateful to our elected members of Congress for fulfilling their constitutional duties even in the face of the shocking violence at the US Capitol yesterday,” Bastian said. “Peaceful protest has been a powerful force for change throughout US history. But it must never cross the line into violence and insurrection.”

    United Airlines

    United Airlines serves both Washington area airports with a large presence in the area as it maintains a hub at Dulles International. A spokesperson for the airline told Insider that staffing would be increased at Washington airports and flight crews wouldn’t be staying in downtown hotels.

    The spokesperson also expressed the airline’s support for the Association of Flight Attendant’s plea to ban rioters from flights departing Washington. 

    United’s leadership team later issued a memo to employees responding to the riots.

    “For those of us who call the US home, we can all agree that these actions were not a reflection of who we are as Americans,”  United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said.

    “A transition of power against the backdrop of a raging pandemic, a struggling economy and, yes, a deeply divided electorate, means that the near-term path for our nation will be difficult,” the memo read. 

    Southwest Airlines

    Southwest Airlines only serves National Airport but also has a base in nearby Baltimore. 

    A spokesperson issued this statement relating to potential issues with rioters flying on the airline: “While we do not discuss our specific security protocols, the TSA and other local and federal law enforcement agencies have bolstered their presence in the Washington, DC area airports, and we appreciate their leadership, guidance, and increased support.”

    The airline also confirmed that no flight crews are scheduled to stay in DC area hotels at this time. 

    Alaska Airlines

    Alaska Airlines serves both of Washington’s airports from the West Coast.

    A spokesperson issued this statement to Insider relating to potential issues with rioters flying with the airline: “We are working in coordination with various law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of our guests and crews. We will not tolerate any disturbance on board our aircraft or at any of the airports we serve.”

    The other two major airlines currently serving Washington including JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

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