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Assaulting an airport gate agent can now lead to major prison time

Airport gate agents
Passengers check in for flights with United Airlines at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. A new ruling by the Department of Justice clarifies that gate agents are covered under a federal statute that protects TSA agents and airport security officers from assaults.
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

As airlines report increased violent incidents caused by unruly passengers, the federal government has ruled that anyone who assaults an airport ticket agent will face the same fines and prison time as if they had attacked a Transportation Security Administration agent or other law enforcement officer. 

The U.S. Department of Justice, in a letter to Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), clarified this month that a federal law written to protect TSA agents and law enforcement officers in airports also applies to airline workers at the ticket counters and gates.

The punishment for assaulting such workers is a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

The Communication Workers of America, the union that represents airline workers, praised the ruling, saying it will help protect airline agents from being victims of air rage. The union helped collect more than 2,000 signatures urging the Justice Department to clarify the law.

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“This is a victory for the employees of the airlines and for our customers and their families,” said Tom Robertson, a union member and an agent for Envoy Air, a regional subsidiary of American Airlines. “Now no one will be exposed to violence in our nation’s airports.”

Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the CWA, said the union’s next challenge is to ensure that airlines push to have anyone who assaults their workers prosecuted under the federal law, not just state laws.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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