United Airlines bets on Florida, adding dozens of flights a day starting November

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) – United Airlines is adding up to 28 daily nonstop U.S. flights to Florida starting Nov. 6 as the Chicago-based airline bets on a rebound in leisure travelers heading to sunny skies.

The direct flights are from non United hub cities in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four Florida destinations.

United said it is part of its “continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.” But the carrier said it could reduce the number of flights if COVID-19 infections in Florida remain high.

New Florida flights will go to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa.

Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning, said the new flights represent “United’s largest expansion of point-to-point, non-hub flying and reflects our data driven approach to add capacity where customers are telling us they want to go.”

United can adjust up or down. Gupta said the added Florida flights could amount to more than 400,000 additional seats this winter season. He said many U.S. travelers are picking Florida instead of international destinations.

There are modest signs of improving air travel demand. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 831,789 people on Sunday — the first time it screened more than 800,000 people since March 17. That is still down 70% over prior year figures.

Still, Florida has reported 542,792 coronavirus cases, the second most of any U.S. state behind only California, according to a Reuters tally, and more than 10% of all reported U.S. cases. If coronavirus cases in Florida remain high, “we will adjust our plans,” Gupta said.

Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly said at a Texas Tribune forum on Wednesday the airline is still trying to figure how many flights to offer as it works to reduce its $20 million a day losses. “It is pure guesswork at this point” Kelly said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

Florida block party shooting leaves one dead, four wounded

(Reuters) – Police said on Saturday they were searching for a suspect or suspects who fired gunshots at a large neighborhood block party in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the early hours of the morning, killing one man and wounding four others.

The incident took place at about 1:15 a.m. at the crowded party, said Tracy Figone, a spokeswoman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, in a statement.

Five men between 16 and 27 years old were shot. One unidentified 22-year-old man was pronounced dead on the scene and the other four victims were transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, she said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bill Rigby)

Florida airport shooting suspect to appear in federal court

Law enforcement searching for suspects of Ft. Lauderdale shooting

By Zachary Fagenson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – The 26-year-old Iraq war veteran accused of killing five people at a busy Florida airport in the latest U.S. gun rampage was due to appear in a federal court on Monday on charges that could bring him the death penalty.

Esteban Santiago, who had a history of erratic behavior, has admitted to investigators that he planned Friday’s attack in Fort Lauderdale and bought a one-way ticket from his home in Alaska to carry it out, according to a criminal complaint.

Authorities say they have not ruled out terrorism as a motive and that they are investigating whether mental illness played a role. In November, Santiago went to a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Anchorage and told agents he believed U.S. spies were controlling his mind.

Santiago will be asked if he understands the charges facing him during the hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) on Monday, and he will be assigned a public defender if he cannot afford his own lawyer.

Bond could be set for Santiago, who is in the Broward County Jail in Fort Lauderdale, but legal experts said he almost certainly would be held without bail.

He could face the death penalty if convicted on charges of carrying out violence at an airport, using a firearm during a violent act, and killing with a firearm. But it may be months before prosecutors reveal what lies in Santiago’s future.

“They’ve then got two weeks to indict him, and then they’ve got to go through the whole death penalty review,” said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein, who is now a partner with Miami law firm Clarke Silverglate.

Executions have been on hold in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty laws a year ago. The Florida Supreme Court overturned a rewritten version in October.

Six people had gunshot wounds from the attack, and about three dozen suffered minor injuries in the chaos as passengers and airport workers fled the gunfire.

Authorities say Santiago arrived on a connecting flight from Alaska and retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his checked luggage before loading it in a bathroom.

He then returned to the baggage claim area and walked “while shooting in a methodical manner” 10 to 15 times, aiming at his victims’ heads, according to the criminal complaint.

Information surfaced over the weekend that police in Alaska took a handgun from Santiago in November after he told FBI agents there his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency. They returned it to him about a month later after a medical evaluation found he was not mentally ill.

Video published by the website TMZ on Sunday showed the gunman walking calmly past the airport’s luggage carousels before wordlessly pulling the handgun from his waistband and shooting at victims who fled or dived to the floor.

Santiago served from 2007 to 2016 in the Puerto Rico and Alaska national guards, including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon. Relatives have said he acted erratically since returning from Iraq.

The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings in the United States. Some were inspired by Islamist militants, while others were carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Gunman opens fire at Ft. Lauderdale airport, killing five

Travelers and airport workers evacuated at Ft. Lauderdale airport

By Zachary Fagenson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – A gunman wearing a “Star Wars” T-shirt opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday, killing five people before being taken into custody, officials and witnesses said.

Five people died and eight were wounded in the incident, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters at the airport.

The gunman had arrived on a flight from Canada with a checked gun in his bag, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter. He claimed his bag and went to the bathroom to load the gun before coming out and firing, LaMarca said.

Cellphone video posted on social media showed victims on the floor next to a carousel, with people on their knees attempting to provide aid. At least two had pools of blood from apparent head wounds.

The shooter was unharmed as law enforcement officers never fired a shot, Israel said, adding that it was too early to assign a motive.

“At this point, it looks like he acted alone,” Israel said.

Nonetheless, he said “this scene is considered fluid and active” as police search the rest of the airport.

The shooter was identified as Esteban Santiago, 26, and had a U.S. military identification, according to a spokesman for U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who spoke with officials at the Transportation Security Administration.

The shooter, who said nothing as he fired, was wearing a “Star Wars” T-shirt, witnesses told MSNBC.

The Florida attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the United States in recent years, some inspired by militants with an extreme view of Islam, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed who have easy access to weapons under U.S. gun laws.

About 90 minutes after the attack, panic broke out anew with passengers and police running frantically about at a separate terminal, but Israel said there were no other reports of shots being fired.

One person was injured trying to evacuate, which may have triggered the later panic, Israel said. Dozens of police sprinted back and forth with automatic weapons drawn, and one officer screamed “Get down, get down!” from a nearby parking garage, a Reuters reporter witnessed.

John Schlicher, who told MSNBC he saw the attack, described the shooter as a slender man who was “directly firing at us” while passengers waited for their bags.

“I put my head down and prayed,” Schlicher said, adding that his wife gave first aid to someone who had been shot in the head. His mother-in-law used her sweater to tend to another victim but it turned out that person was already dead, he said.

The shooter reloaded for another burst of shooting, Schlicher said, but could not say how many bullets were fired.

Mark Lea, another eyewitness, told MSNBC “there was no rhyme or reason to it.”

“He didn’t say anything, he was quiet the whole time, he didn’t yell anything,” Lea said.

Security officials corralled passengers underneath jetways and on the runway apron, according to images on television.

Air traffic was temporarily suspended.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway, with Miami International Airport known as the primary airport for international flights in the area.

HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Nearly two months ago a former Southwest Airlines worker killed an employee of the company at Oklahoma City’s airport in what police called a premeditated act.

The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place last June, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State killed 53 people and wounded 49 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

One of the most shocking was in 2012, when a man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot dead 20 first-graders and six adults.

Attackers have exploited security officials’ focus on preventing attacks on airplanes rather than inside airports. In Western Europe and the United States, terminals are easily accessible public spaces.

But at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, widely seen as a model for security, private companies trained by the national security agency use bomb-detectors, profile passengers and question travelers under the watch of police at the airport’s entrance. That may just shift the target to another location at the airport, experts have said, however.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins, Jeffrey Dastin, Joseph Ax, Jonathan Allen, Gina Cherelus, Letitia Stein and Laila Kearney; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by James Dalgleish)