Airline Passenger Service Workers Speak Up About Passenger Rage Incidents in a National Ad and Call for Federal Action

Monday, December 20, 2021

Airline passenger service agents and members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) announced that they are expanding a digital advertisement campaign designed to raise awareness about the rise in passenger rage incidents and encourage civility among passengers as travel spikes with the impending holiday season. The ad, originally released in Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, is currently running on Facebook and Instagram.

SEE THE “We’re in This Together” VIDEO AD HERE: https://youtu.be/xB8E0uLo-DY.

CWA represents more than 20,000 passenger service agents around the country, who are responsible for assisting passengers and keeping air travel on schedule and safe. During the pandemic, agents have added to their list of duties, enforcing federal mask requirements and securing access to the aircraft from aggressive, often physically violent passengers. These incidents vary from passengers using racial epithets and slurs and other vulgar and harassing language to punching, biting, kicking, shoving, and even spitting on ground service workers.

While the FAA, other federal agencies, and law enforcement have been ramping up their efforts to thwart abuses against flight crews, there has been very little progress in addressing abuses against customer service representatives and gate agents in airports. Airport police departments and local law enforcement agencies are currently tasked with responding to these incidents but have not received clear guidance from the federal government on their responsibilities under the law.

“As far as we know, not a single passenger who has assaulted a ground service worker has been prosecuted under federal law,” said Richard Honeycutt, Vice President of CWA District 3 and Chair of CWA's Passenger Service Airline Council. “This gap in enforcement and protection is unacceptable. It’s time for the federal government to establish clear procedures for enforcing the law.”

“A lot of the agents are sharing with me the hostility that the passengers have for them for having to hold so long,” said Deborah Johnson, a tariff agent for a major airline and CWA Local 6001 member, in one of the ads. She added, “I'm someone's wife, I'm someone's mother, I'm someone's daughter, I'm someone's sister, I'm a human being. And all I wish is that you treat me with respect.”

A recent egregious incident occurred on June 28, 2021, at the Charlotte Douglas Airport when a passenger attempted to board a flight in a state of extreme intoxication. CWA gate agents, fulfilling their duties to secure the aircraft and protect the other passengers, denied the passenger access to his flight. He became extremely violent – physically assaulting one of our members and verbally attacking another two. There is no doubt about what happened. Video of the assault, taken by a member of the public, was obtained by local news and is publicly available. Despite witnesses and video evidence, local law enforcement did not pursue assault charges against the passenger in Charlotte, reserving court time for other cases, and the FAA and federal law enforcement, instead of stepping up to fill the gap, have likewise failed to pursue the matter.

During this busy holiday travel season, we are encouraging passengers to be patient and treat the passenger service agents, who are there to help, with the respect and dignity they deserve so, together, we can all make it to our destinations safe and sound.

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About CWA: The Communications Workers of America represents working men and women in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, and manufacturing, including more than 20,000 passenger service agents who work for American Airlines and its wholly owned subsidiaries, Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines.

cwa-union.org @cwaunion

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