Air travellers in Scotland face potential summer holiday chaos over a plague of badly-behaved passengers who are abusing airport check-in staff.

Unions have warned of potential strike action as staff at airports have been subjected to "horrific" attacks for doing their jobs and are concerned not enough is being done to stop it.

Staff working for aviation services firm Swissport at Glasgow Airport, which provide vital ground services revealed the vast majority have suffered verbal abuse and physical harassment from passengers checking-in or boarding planes.

A survey by GMB Scotland of 40 workers, with all but two women, revealed 36 had suffered abuse ranging from verbal threats to spitting and physical assaults over the previous year.

Staff told the Herald on Sunday that abuse from passengers has become a daily occurrence and that some were considering other jobs if it did not stop.

There are further concerns for staff in Edinburgh, and a survey is currently underway.

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Union leaders say "zero tolerance" posters they have produced to distribute at airports to tell travellers not to abuse staff have been banned by Swissport.

The union has now lodged a collective grievance urging management to take effective action against aggressive passengers and warned of industrial action including strikes if steps are not taken to protect staff.

A grievance letter has told Swissport about a "failure of duty of care" under the Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

Swissport say they were in the process of agreeing appropriate ‘zero-tolerance’ signage with the airports and have committed to updating them once these discussions are completed.

It comes as it emerged Edinburgh Airport faces summer holiday travel chaos in a dispute over pay.

Unite said it will ballot around 275 workers at Edinburgh Airport on walkouts, including members employed in security, terminal operations and search areas.

The union claimed members’ pay has been cut by around 10% in real terms over the last seven years, and it said workers are “prepared to fight for a better deal”.

Unite said its members at Edinburgh Airport have rejected an inferior pay offer to one made to staff at Gatwick, where it said a 12% increase plus a £1,500 one-off cash payment has been accepted by the workforce.

After Covid restrictions were fully lifted in March, last year demand has bounced back quicker than predicted.

And staff at Glasgow Airport believe that passenger frustrations heightened post-Covid with people just anxious to go abroad without any hassle.

Staff, who are paid just over the National Living Wage at between £10.64 and £10.86 per hour told the Herald on Sunday that another reason for the abuse is that they have been recently pushed to enforce rules on the weight of luggage and the size of cabin bags - which they say can result in charges of up to £60.

GMB Scotland organiser Robert Deavy said: "The survey results over what is going on is quite damning.


"People are desperate to go on holiday after Covid. But in the last couple of months this abuse has started escalating and getting to the point that there is a fear of going to work. Aggressive behaviour is getting out of control.

"The airline providers are more strict now on the weight and the size of the bag and it is causing a lot of trouble.

"Charges are the main issue. Passengers are kicking off, they are told they cannot get into the aircraft without paying and it is really causing carnage.

"It is not the staff's fault. It isn't going into their pocket. It is the airlines that are making the staff tell someone their bag is overweight or too big.

"These are workers that are being shouted and spat on with one physically grabbed.

"But we cannot get Swissport to put posters up to remind passengers to be respectful. "It isn't a silver bullet but it is a start. It shows that they are not taking their health and safety seriously."

The poster that was banned said: "Our colleagues work hard to make sure you get away on holiday safely. They deserve to be able to do their job without fear of any kind of abuse. Please be respectful and enjoy your holiday."

Mr Deavy added: "Our members have become a distinct second to the planes getting out on time.

"If they don't help us deal with the problem and make the airport a safe place for our members to work, there will be a ballot for industrial action. Passengers have a role to play, and we need to get this message out. If passengers want to go on their holidays in the summer, they have to play ball here.

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"We just can't have people being threatened at their work, getting grabbed and spat on.

It is estimated that there are 120 ground handling staff operating from Glasgow Airport - and over three quarters are GMB members.

The Covid pandemic led to thousands of workers across the UK being laid off when international travel was halted.

Last summer, airports and airlines suffered staff shortages as they struggled to recruit replacements.

In June 2020, Swissport halved its 8,500-strong UK workforce of baggage handlers and security personnel. The company has since rehired thousands of people but last summer it was thought that 1,200 of them still did not have security clearance.


The banned poster.

Staff at Glasgow Airport, who will remain anonymous told of their concerns for their safety.

One lady check-in and boarding staff member said the abuse was on a daily abuse and that she was considering finding a new job.

"It is horrific. We deal with shouting and swearing and punching walls because people do not want to pay extra for bags.

"We are getting pressured into charging for cabin bags, we have to charge £39.99 for bags or sometimes it is £60. We have briefings to try and get five bags on a flights and it is like a push on to get revenue.

"Things are just getting worse and worse.

"In the past we weren't so proactive. We would let some bags go, but we really have to get more bags.

"It is very very stressful. I had one lady the other day with a child going for a Ryanair flight and was actually crying because she didn't have the money to pay for it. The supervisor said she could not travel and had to call a relative from Poland to ask her to transfer the money to pay. That is not nice.

"The solution is maybe to get a new job. The hours you are working and the stress you are under for the wages you get, you do wonder if it is worth it."

The GMB staff in advising staff about the collective grievance said that if they experience any abusive behaviour from a passenger, to "remove yourself from the situation immediately, do not engage with them and seek out help from the nearest manager or police officer".

Another lady staff member said: "When asking to pay for the bags.. their demeanour changes... it is like they are right in your face and shouting. We say if you talk like that you won't travel but they shout and swear and even and insult they way you look at dress.

"It is an every day occurance. But we all try go support each other and if there is an argument, we will stick up for each other that way."

She told of an incident last week where a flight to Bristol was delayed for a couple of hours and passengers were punching the walls, while one threatened to punch one of her colleagues.

In another incident she was at check in and one passenger was told they couldn't travel because they did not have the right documentation and he started punching the check-in in desk.

"He could easily have hit someone because he was out of control," she said.


"You would think if they are going on holidays that they would be dead nice, but there is this sense of entitlement. I think because of Covid people, haven't gone out, it is their first holidays and they just don't want it. But again you would think they would be excited to go. But the demeanour definitely changes. "It is so stressful. We have passengers who are nice, of course. But you get another flight and you get absolute chaos."

The GMB's letter to Swissport says that the grievance is in relation to "the abuse and serious harassment our members are receiving from passengers at check in desks or when they are boarding aircraft. This behaviour from the passengers is causing our members a huge amount of stress and anxiety which is having a serious impact on the mental health of our members.

"As an employer, you're required by law to protect your employees, and others, from harm."

It tells Swissport that the minimum requirement under the law was to identify what could cause injury or illness in the business, decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously and take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn't possible, control the risk.

"GMB Scotland has raised these serious concerns on numerous occasions and requested that posters stating this abuse is unacceptable be displayed in prominent areas for passengers to view," Swissport was told.

"It appears these concerns have been completely ignored by all concerned. As a collective we do not believe it is unreasonable for the management in the airport to take our members concerns seriously and deal with the abuse, harassment, and intimidation or members are enduring from these passengers while carrying out their jobs as required by Swissport.

"It also must be noted that Swissport as the employer has a duty of care for their employees that covers both physical and psychological wellbeing. This behaviour from passengers is having a severe detrimental impact on our members mental health and wellbeing. We wish to thank you for taking the time to consider the points we have raised, and we look forward to hearing from you in due course."

Swissport said that as it is the ground handling agent for a number of airlines at Glasgow and Edinburgh they were required to adhere to their policies regarding baggage that does not meet relevant size or weight requirements, including charging any associated fees for such.

A spokesman for Swissport added: “Our people have the right to work in a safe environment and, whilst we are committed to helping passengers, Swissport will not hesitate to take a zero-tolerance approach to anyone who subjects employees to abusive, violent or threatening behaviour.”

While a Glasgow Airport spokeman said: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to any form of abusive behaviour and through our industry-leading Campus Watch programme we work closely with our airport partners, including Police Scotland, to ensure our staff and passengers continue to work and travel in a safe environment.”

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: "We have a zero tolerance approach to abuse of any nature towards staff.

“No-one should come to work and be abused, and we work closely with campus partners including Police Scotland, airlines, retailers and handling agents to ensure all staff are aware of the support available and anyone behaving in such a way is dealt with appropriately.

"The vast majority of our passengers are friendly and respectful, however we would remind those who fall short of that standard that staff are working hard to ensure their journey is as smooth as can be."