Nearly 60% of Airport Workers Report Being Harassed, Threatened, Assaulted, Report Says

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An NBC Charlotte Defenders investigation is exposing an alarming trend about aggressive passengers at the airport.

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows nearly 60% of airline workers reported being harassed, threatened, or even assaulted.  At Charlotte Douglas International, one recent incident was caught on camera.

The reasons passengers act out included frustration over waiting in long lines, paying baggage fees, or being intoxicated, according to the report.

Cell phone video recently captured a man screaming, knocking over signs, even putting his hands on an American Airlines worker at Charlotte Douglas.

“Something’s going on with that guy,” one passenger said at the time.

“It’s something we deal with every day,” said Donielle Prophete, vice president of the local airline agents union.

Prophete told NBC Charlotte she is among the many airline workers who’s been targeted.

“I was actually cut by a passenger about four or five years ago. They cut my finger trying to snatch a bag out of my hand,” Prophete said. “I contracted MRSA, and I had to be out of work for 22 days take a lot of medicine.”

Of the 104 agents surveyed in the report, 96 said they’d been verbally harassed, 34 reported either an attempted or actual assault, and another 34 said there was some other harmful action done.

“Agents need to be trained; they need to know how to protect themselves,” said Prophete.

NBC Charlotte has learned airlines are now required to submit plans for employee de-escalation training to the FAA because of the federal Re-Authorization Act of 2018.   

However, according to the report, some airlines had not submitted plans by the January deadline and were reminded again in July. The FAA did not provide NBC Charlotte with a list of which airlines had submitted the plans already.

Airlines for America, a trade association for the airlines, released a statement reading in part, “Employees receive extensive customer service training, including de-escalation training, to ensure the safety and well-being of our passengers and the employees themselves.”

NBC Charlotte asked Prophete if there’s a good plan in place where she works.

“We are working on it,” she responded.

The report also noted a more visible police presence could help prevent incidents. In the recent case at Charlotte Douglas, the video runs 3-minutes and 18-seconds before officers arrived and arrested the suspect.

Police said their response time was 2-minutes after receiving the call. The man was charged with disorderly conduct.

“Our hope is that we get more police, so their response time can be quicker, because we do have a pretty big airport,” said Prophete.

Prophete’s concerned the situation will get worse in the coming months. She said during winter, passengers act out even more.

“Whenever we have to cancel flights due to weather or maintenance or anything,” said Prophete.

The report also interviewed stakeholders including airlines and law enforcement. Those stakeholders said current laws and resources are enough to deal with the problem.

SOURCE: WCNC – NBC Charlotte