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‘Treat me with respect’: Weary airline workers beg passengers to stay calm during holiday travel

Airport and call center workers say they have been physically and verbally abused during the pandemic as airlines struggle with cancellations, delays and a shortage of workers.

Airline and airport workers plan to blast travelers with targeted ads asking for a little sympathy during the holiday season after nearly two years of heightened nerves for flyers and employees alike.

The union representing passenger service agents at American Airlines and United Airlines, CWA Local 6001, is starting the online advertising campaign at the busiest airports in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri as they head into a potentially volatile holiday travel season.

“There are a lot of rude customers and they are upset because the airlines are short-staffed and flights have been delayed or canceled,” said Anetra Session, a union representative who helped organize the ad campaign. “Customers are just in their faces and a few of my agents have been assaulted.”

The new ad campaign will target Facebook and Instagram users just as airlines and airports are set to welcome the highest number of travelers at any time since the COVID-19 pandemic began for the Thanksgiving holiday. DFW International Airport is expecting 2.3 million passengers between Nov. 18 and 29 alone, the airport reported.

Through Monday, more than 2 million travelers had passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints across the nation for five straight days.

While passengers have been under scrutiny for misbehavior while planes are in the air, workers on the ground say they are facing just as much abuse from angry passengers as flight attendants and pilots. Two weeks ago at Dallas Love Field, a passenger was arrested after allegedly punching a Southwest Airlines employee in the head while boarding a flight.

“I’m a human being and all I ask is that you treat me with respect,” an airline worker said in one of the videos.

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t publish statistics for incidents in airports like it does for those that take place in the air. Session said work is much more dangerous for gate agents and other airport workers who deal with customers than at any time in history.

While flight attendants have been tasked with enforcing mask mandates on planes, gate agents and other airline workers at airports have been forced with dealing with frustrated passengers amid periods of high cancellations and delays.

On top of that, airlines such as Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines say they are trying to hire at least 4,000 employees each before the end of the year, many in operational roles such as baggage handlers and call center representatives.

American and Southwest have each been responsible for high-profile operational meltdowns in which thousands of flights nationwide were canceled in October, leading to frustrated customers at airports and long waits to get in touch with company representatives over the phone to reschedule flights.

Airlines are offering holiday pay bonuses and other perks to workers that go the entire season without missing work or for picking up extra shifts, all in an attempt to avoid shortages.

The point of the ad campaign, Session said, is to humanize the airline workers who are dealing with these problems every day.

“It’s created a heavy burden on them,” Session said. “They are overworked. They are doing a lot of overtime trying to get those planes off the ground.”

Boxes of wine are Buy One, Get One Free at TRG Duty Free shop in Terminal D at DFW Airport Friday, October 1, 2021. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
Airlines

Two Dallas-area passengers face FAA fines for alcohol-related unruly behavior

Two passengers on American Airlines and Southwest Airlines flights leaving North Texas airports were among eight slapped with more than $160,000 in combined fines for unruly behavior involving alcohol, a troubling trend as airlines consider whether or not to bring back full alcohol service to flights.A man flying from DFW International Airport to Burbank, Calif. in March allegedly refused to wear a mask, threw his drink on the floor and stomped on it, and then demanded another alcoholic beverage before being denied by flight attendants, the FAA said in a release Monday.
By

Kyle Arnold. Kyle Arnold is the aviation writer for The Dallas Morning News, covering airlines, air travel and the aerospace industry. He previously worked as a business journalist for the Orlando Sentinel, Tulsa World and The Monitor in McAllen. He is a University of Washington graduate.

kyle.arnold@dallasnews.com /bykylearnold kylelarnold
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