How Airline Outsourcing of Passenger Services
Compromises Security and Service Quality at LAX
Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
“I was told to search the airplane cabin for suspicious
items, but I never had training on what kinds of things
I should look for.”
—Xiomara Osorio, LAX passenger service worker
“You have to be careful lifting people with disabilities or
else you’ll injure the passenger and yourself. A while back,
a passenger in a wheelchair was dropped and got hurt
pretty badly. The attendant felt terrible, but he had no
training on how to do this correctly.”
—Tim Maddox, LAX passenger service worker
“Our equipment is not well maintained, and it’s not safe
for the passengers or for us. Few of the wheelchairs
I use have brakes that work, so I have to hold onto the
wheelchair to keep it from moving.”
—Carolina Franco, LAX passenger service worker
Under the Radar
Introduction government has made major investments in technology
and staffing to prevent terrorist attacks at airports.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the
city’s most prized public assets. As the fifth-largest However, these efforts to improve airport security and
passenger airport in the world, LAX is a major economic operations at LAX are undermined by the airlines’
engine for the Los Angeles region. Given the airport’s contracting system, which jeopardizes public safety and
importance to the regional economy, local officials undermines the quality of services provided to passengers.
have recently undertaken major initiatives to improve Our survey of nearly 300 passenger service workers at LAX
operations at LAX. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), has found that the airlines have allowed their contractors to
the city agency that operates LAX, will spend $11 billion put the security and the health of the public at risk, while
over the next decade upgrading and renovating the failing to provide adequate services for passengers with
airport’s terminal buildings and runways. disabilities. Meanwhile, LAWA has little oversight in this
area, even though these contractors provide vital security
The airport’s size and prominence also make it a prime and passenger services on airport property. Although the
terrorist target. Al-Qaeda plotted to bomb the airport in duties of airline contracted service workers are vital to the
1999, seeing it as a symbol of American commerce. Since health and safety of the traveling public, these workers are
September 11, 2001, airports have become one of the poorly compensated, receive little training, and have few
highest priorities for homeland security, and the federal incentives to stay in their jobs long term.
Under the Radar
Under the Radar
Airlines are compromising security at LAX by failing to About Passenger Service Workers
ensure that their contractors provide adequate training to This report focuses on passenger services that are
passenger service workers. provided by airline contractors in areas frequented by
the public. There are an estimated 2,500 passenger
LAX, it is possible to board an airplane with only a service workers at LAX employed by companies that
contracted security worker checking the passenger’s contract with the airlines. Passenger service work
ID. However, less than 20 percent of surveyed is integral to airport operations and includes the
workers with security duties have received formal following important functions:
training on spotting fake IDs.
Security:.Searching airplanes for suspicious items,
than 25 percent of surveyed workers with guarding airplanes, staffing security checkpoints,
security duties have received formal training on handling screened baggage
conducting plane searches for dangerous items.
Customer Service:.Escorting elderly and passengers
Workers say they have as little as 15 minutes to
with disabilities, handling baggage
conduct these searches.
Public Health:.Cleaning airplane cabins, including
one in four surveyed workers with security food storage areas and restrooms
duties has received training in identifying suspicious
behavior. Other airports such as Boston’s Logan
International and Miami International have instituted with disabilities. Workers allege that Aero Port Services
training for all airport employees in “behavior is not providing the training and staffing required
pattern recognition,” which employs advanced under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
techniques for identifying suspicious behavior.
Airline cost-cutting is jeopardizing the health of the
10 percent of passenger service workers public and undermining service quality.
surveyed have received formal training in terminal • More than one-third of cabin cleaners surveyed said
evacuation and emergency procedures. they sometimes don’t have enough time or staff to
change all the pillowcases and blankets on the plane. As
Airlines at LAX are not providing adequate services
a result, passengers may be coming into close contact
to passengers with disabilities and the elderly due to
with used items that could spread germs and disease.
equipment problems, lack of training, and understaffing.
I recent years, major airlines such as Northwest, • More
than half of all workers surveyed said they
America West, Southwest, and JetBlue have been often do not have adequate equipment or enough
found by the U.S. Department of Transportation staff to do their jobs well.
(DOT) to be violating federal regulations protecting
passengers with disabilities. In 2005, 13,000 disability- Multiple contractors operating in the same terminal for
related complaints were filed with DOT against the different airlines creates an inefficient system that is
airlines. inconsistent and lacks coordination.
the Tom Bradley International Terminal, seven
• At LAX, 75 percent of wheelchair attendants surveyed different passenger service contractors operate
reported problems with broken or malfunctioning simultaneously.
wheelchairs and nearly a third said a passenger
has been in danger due to equipment problems or • Standards
are inconsistent across airlines and
lack of training. More than 60 percent of wheelchair terminals. Workers report that contractors provide
attendants surveyed have not received formal training more wheelchairs to airlines that complain the
in how to lift a passenger with a disability. loudest, rather than to those that have the most
passengers in need.
• Passenger service workers at LAX have filed a
complaint with the Department of Transportation • Fierce
competition between airlines means they have
alleging that a major contractor and its client airlines are little incentive to share resources to meet unexpected
in violation of federal regulations protecting passengers passenger demands. For example, airlines using
Under the Radar
Under the Radar
different contractors for wheelchair service in • Taxpayers bear the costs of poverty jobs when
the same terminal will not call on each other for workers rely on government assistance programs and
assistance if there is a sudden high demand. overburdened public health facilities.
Contracted security workers are still working in pre-9/11
conditions, with little training, poor compensation, and
few incentives to stay in their jobs long term.
In the absence of federal standards, and with the airlines
9/11, airport security screeners were focused on their bottom line, Los Angeles World Airports
contracted by the airlines. They became federal (LAWA) has an important role to play in increasing
employees in an effort to improve security by accountability.
increasing training, improving compensation, and
reducing employee turnover. • LAWA should follow the lead of other airports, such
as San Francisco International Airport and airports in
• Contracted passenger service workers have important
Europe, which have greater oversight regarding the
security functions, yet still face substandard conditions. provision of vital airport services.
• Turnover is high among passenger service workers
• LAWA should use a competitive bidding process to
surveyed. Twenty-five percent of passenger service workers select a group of pre-qualified airline contractors that
have been at their job for less than a year and more than 50 are allowed to operate at its airports.
percent have been there for three years or less.
• AWA should institute performance standards for
Passenger service jobs contribute to poverty in many passenger service contractors. Setting standards
low-income communities already affected by airport air for employee training, service quality, security
pollution and noise. procedures and job quality will address some of the
• he average earnings of surveyed workers are less than
T problems documented in this report.
$19,000 per year, which is not enough to meet the cost of
basic necessities for living in Los Angeles. On average, • AWA should enforce its performance standards by
workers surveyed have to pay more than $3,000 per imposing penalties on contractors that fail to meet them.
year for family health coverage, if it is available at all. There should be a process for workers and members of
the public to file complaints against contractors.
• ore than 60 percent of workers surveyed live
in high-poverty communities surrounding the • LAWA should limit the overall number of passenger
airport and in South Los Angeles. Many of these service contractors in order to improve efficiency and
communities bear the brunt of airport emissions and coordination. LAWA should also limit the number of
lie in its flight path. contractors that operate in each terminal.
Under the Radar
Under the Radar
functions and are the
to the public. Much of
a passenger’s airport
experience will be shaped
by the services provided
by checkpoint staffers,
baggage porters, and