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TSA assessing whether hundreds should be barred from flights ahead of inauguration

The agency says it has increased security at airports, on planes and at rail stations around the Washington region.

A Transportation Security Administration agent behind a barrier at Reagan National Airport in Arlington. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

The Transportation Security Administration said Friday that it is conducting risk assessments on hundreds of people ahead of expected protests at the presidential inauguration next week, trying to determine whether they need to be subject to enhanced screening or barred from flying entirely.

But an agency spokesman declined to say whether the assessments had led to anyone being stopped from flying.

The agency has faced calls from a major flight attendants union and lawmakers to use the no-fly list to stop people tied to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 from returning to Washington next week. Airline crews operating out of the region have had to deal with disruptive groups of passengers, with several incidents captured in viral videos.

“Our intelligence and vetting professionals are working diligently around-the-clock to ensure those who may pose a threat to our aviation sector undergo enhanced screening or are prevented from boarding an aircraft,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement.

FAA warns of jail time, fines as airports and airlines prep for unruly passengers ahead of the inauguration

The agency said it also has deployed more law enforcement to airports in the Washington region, aided by bomb-sniffing dogs. There will be random screenings at gates, more federal air marshals on some flights and personnel deployed to major rail stations, the agency said.

“Our ongoing partnership with airports, airlines and surface transportation system operators continues to be a critical element in our collective efforts to keep the nation’s transportation systems safe,” Pekoske said.

The new details of the TSA’s plans follow efforts by airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration to guarantee the safety of passengers and crews. The FAA announced it would take a zero-tolerance policy toward disruptive behavior on flights, imposing fines or referring cases to law enforcement rather than issuing warnings.

Major airlines have brought in more staff, moved crews out of downtown hotels and prohibited passengers from carrying guns in their baggage. They also have used their ability to ban disruptive passengers, targeting in particular those who refuse to wear masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

How to get around — and avoid — downtown Washington during the inauguration. It won’t be easy.

Airbnb has effectively shut down its service in Washington for the days around the inauguration. Much of the center of the city has been closed to traffic and fortified by police and National Guard troops. Metrorail has closed 13 stations around the Capitol and Mall.

On Friday, the leaders of 22 unions representing employees in the transportation sector issued an open letter saying that in recent days their members working at airlines, transit systems and railroads have been threatened, harassed and assaulted. The unions called on the federal government to use its authority to keep the public safe.

“Amid ongoing threats of future violence — including Inauguration Day calls to arms by right-wing militants — front line transportation workers are left wondering how they can protect themselves, their passengers, and our country going forward,” the unions wrote. “This has gone too far, and it must stop.”