"The screeners involved in this particular incident really did their due diligence and we appreciate their efforts, as always," Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan told CBS Radio News.
Las Vegas police arrested Oliver Paul Reason Jr., 37, in the cockpit of the AirTran plane shortly after he passed through an airport checkpoint Wednesday night, according authorities.
Orlando-based AirTran Holdings Inc. issued a statement Thursday saying the airline followed its safety procedures to ensure the Atlanta-bound aircraft was held at the gate.
"The captain neither took command of the aircraft nor was the aircraft operated in any manner," the airline said. It apologized to the 60 passengers inconvenienced by the canceled flight and said it is cooperating with authorities.
The pilot has been suspended from his duties as a federal flight deck officer, which had allowed him to carry the firearm, the TSA said.
After the terrorist hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, pilots' unions lobbied for permission to carry guns in the cockpit. Federal lawmakers granted approval the next year.
If the Federal Aviation Administration finds that the pilot was intoxicated on the job, he will be barred from flying, FAA spokesman Donn Walker said.
The pilot, who has worked for AirTran since 1994, has been suspended indefinitely pending further investigation, airline spokesman Tad Hutcheson said. He added that police told airline officials that Reason had failed a Breathalyzer test.
Reason was being held at the Clark County jail.
Screeners not only check luggage but also watch for unsafe situations, and passengers, too, should be vigilant, TSA's O'Sullivan said.
"They should always be aware of their environment and what is going on around them and if they do see anything suspicious, both passengers at the airport as well as anything to do with the flight attendants or flight crews, they certainly should notify law enforcement or a TSA official," she said.