Losing your temper with a gate agent or other staff in a US airport could earn you more than a rude response: US government officials say that a 9/11-era law criminalising verbal or physical assaults on Transportation Security Administration agents and law-enforcement officers should also apply to other airport workers with security duties.
Signed into law in 2001, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act set penalties for attacks on airport personnel, with an amendment from then-Senator John Kerry stipulating that the law should cover acts that interfere with the activities of gate agents, ramp personnel and other airline workers who control access to aircraft or other secure areas.
However, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Transportation (DOT) have long interpreted the measure as more narrowly applying to TSA agents and police only, according to US Representative John Garamendi, Democrat of California, who led a campaign to broaden the law. Garamendi’s request was backed by unions representing airport workers.
In a response to Garamendi, the DOJ this week agreed that the law includes all employees who have security duties within the airport, according to a report from USA Today. “As such, we also agree that the statutory language considers not only TSA and law-enforcement officers in this criminal offense, but also airport and air-carrier employees who have security duties in the airport,” said Peter Kadzik, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s office of legislative affairs.
“A broader application … is especially needed in light of the troubling rise in violence we have seen against airline customer-service agents, including gate and ticket agents, who are responsible for ticketing, baggage claims, check-in and the orderly boarding of aircraft,” contends Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. “Assaults have often resulted in serious and sometimes life-altering injuries to airline personnel who are simply doing their jobs. In some cases the perpetrators have been arrested and prosecuted, but more often than not violent passengers face no legal consequences and are allowed to continue on with their trip. While modern air travel can be stressful and unpredictable, no amount of inconvenience can justify verbally or physically assaulting airline personnel.”