News and notes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport

When air rage turns into assault

Cramped seats, long security lines, baggage fees and flight delays provide a minefield for frustrated travelers.

There are times when the frustration boils over into air rage -- sometimes, with airline workers as the target or caught in the crossfire.

On the plane, flight attendants and pilots have protection from federal law that says interfering with flight crew members by assaulting or intimidating them can result in fines and imprisonment for up to 20 years.

Now, one union representing airline customer service workers is pushing to also make it a felony to assault an airline customer service agent.

The International Association of Machinists, which represents customer service workers at some airlines, says without a federal law governing such assaults, there is no uniform enforcement. It's up to each local jurisdiction whether to prosecute, according to Machinists union transportation department chief of staff Joe Tiberi.

Credit: Brant Sanderlin

The union wrote a letter aimed at members of Congress saying: "Airline passengers who are upset about paying more for airline tickets and fees, lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations are taking their frustrations out on innocent airline workers who are simply trying to do their job."

Bad behavior in the air turns up frequently in the news. Just this week, an Alaska Air passenger reportedly became abusive toward flight attendants and other passengers. In January, a woman was reportedly charged after she allegedly assaulted flight atetndants and a passenger on a United Airlines flight. In December, an Air Canada flight was reportedly diverted after a man allegedly bit a flight attendant.

To be sure, sometimes, it's the employees themselves who misbehave. Recently, a brawl between two Delta flight attendants led to a flight diversion.

The Machinists union is urging its members to contact Congressional representatives to push for legislation to make it a felony to assault an airline gate agent, ticket agent or other customer service representative, in the form of an amendment authored by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. to be included in the massive Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill.

The biggest issue in the FAA reauthorization bill is a proposed spinoff of air traffic control. But it is also used as a vehicle for a variety of other airline and aviation issues, from drones to baggage fee refunds to a ban on in-flight cell phone calls.

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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.