Aviation

Unions urge Biden to protect airport agents from unruly passengers

The Baggage claim area for Fort Lauderdale International Airport is seen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Greg Nash

Labor unions representing airport service agents on Thursday urged the Biden administration to protect their members from abusive and violent travelers.

In a letter to Biden administration officials, the unions said that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s effort to crack down on assaults against flight crews does not extend protections to airport agents working at gate, ticket and reservation areas and other ground-based locations.

The groups said that airport police departments and local law enforcement have not received clear guidance from the federal government on how to respond to attacks on airport workers, allowing passengers to assault their members without recourse in some cases.

“These actions from the highest levels of government signal to our ground service members that their safety in the workplace is not a priority,” the unions wrote. 

The Communications Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Transport Workers Union of America, and Transportation Trades Department, which together represent tens of thousands of ground service agents, authored the letter.

The unions sent the letter to President Biden, Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. 

They urged the Biden administration to establish an interagency working group to clarify how assault cases against ground service workers should be reported, processed and prosecuted.  

In several cases, travelers assaulted airport agents but were not penalized, according to the labor groups.

In a June incident at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, an intoxicated passenger physically assaulted a gate agent and verbally attacked two others but was not charged by local or federal authorities. Another passenger at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York repeatedly punched an agent in the face for refusing to allow them onto the airplane but is not facing charges, the unions said.

“Our unions cannot allow these attacks that occur on an almost daily basis to continue to go unaddressed,” the unions wrote. “The health of the entire airline industry will depend on a strong and coordinated federal response to assaults against ground service personnel.”

The Federal Aviation Administration documented nearly 6,000 unruly passenger reports in 2021, up sharply from previous years. The majority of those incidents stemmed from travelers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate for air travel.

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment. 

Tags Airline Airport Alejandro Mayorkas Assault Communications Workers of America gate agent International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joe Biden Justice Department Merrick Garland passengers Pete Buttigieg Transport Workers Union of America and Transportation Trades Department travelers

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