FAA reauthorization should not move forward without commonsense protections for customer service agents

Anyone who has flown knows how stressful air travel can be — the long lines, crowded terminals and lost baggage aggravate many of us. But that’s no excuse for physically attacking airline customer service agents — a trend that is, disturbingly, on the rise. These working people, who serve customers and play a big role in keeping air travel safe and efficient, deserve the peace of mind that their employer and government are doing everything possible to protect them from assault.

This isn’t hyperbole. Across the nation reports are surfacing of these employees coming home with torn clothes, black eyes and bloody lips, and some have been hospitalized. Clearly, our aviation system must be a place that is safe for both passengers and frontline airline employees.

{mosads}Lawmakers have the power — and we would argue, the responsibility — to help curb this senseless violence. And they should use the federal aviation bill, now before Congress, to step up and protect airline employees. The House version of that bill beefs up protection for passenger service employees by extending to them the protections in our laws that make it a crime to interfere with or assault a flight crew member. The reforms also ensure that people who commit violence are held accountable by giving passenger service agents a clearer path for pursuing legal action if necessary. But to our dismay, Senate lawmakers effectively turned a blind eye to this problem by failing to include a similar provision in that chamber’s version of aviation legislation.

The reforms that would even out the safeguards in our law to ensure that all the airline employees involved in flight operations — whether they serve and process passengers at counters and gates or crew the flights — are protected. There is no justification for our federal policy to arbitrarily exclude certain aviation employees. This is also good aviation policy: a safe frontline workforce keeps the passengers safe as well.

This simple change to existing federal law would not cost tax payers a dime, is backed by the aviation industry, and was unanimously approved by Republicans and Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Without federal protections, customer service agents who are assaulted are at the mercy of local jurisdictions, which decide when or if to prosecute the attackers — or if incidents will be reported at all. In the vast majority of cases, violent passengers face no repercussions. In fact, we are certain passengers would want to know that most people who carry-out these assaults are allowed to continue on their trips as though nothing happened.

Given how vital customer service agents are to the airline industry, protecting these employees should be a no-brainer for our nation’s lawmakers. The role of customer service agents is critical to safe and efficient airline operations. They serve as an extension of flight crews, are responsible for the safe and orderly boarding of aircraft, and are often called upon to remove a violent or disruptive passenger from a plane prior to take-off or during the boarding process. They should not be expected to show up at work not knowing if their employer and government will protect them from physical assault.

Congress has a responsibility to protect frontline airline employees. Any aviation bill that reaches the President desk must give passenger service agents a measure of security from assaults that unfortunately are occurring with greater frequency.

Pantoja is general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Wytkind is president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

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