Airport check-in staff are to get more protection from abusive passengers before the summer rush begins at Scotland's biggest airports.

It has emerged that new air rage safeguards are being introduced after ground staff at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports revealed a catalogue of verbal abuse and physical assault by angry travellers.

The Herald revealed that unions had 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, which carries out work for the airlines at airports and provide vital ground services revealed the vast majority have suffered verbal abuse and physical harassment from passengers checking-in or boarding planes.

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

Union leaders had said "zero tolerance" posters they produced to distribute at airports to tell travellers not to abuse staff were banned by Swissport.

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."

The GMB said more than 60% of the 70 Swissport check-in staff at Edinburgh Airport it had surveyed had suffered violence or verbal abuse from "thuggish" passengers while checking in or boarding aircraft.

The Herald:

Robert Deavy

A total of 70% said the situation was getting worse.

Collective grievances were lodged with Swissport urging the company to take "effective action" against aggressive passengers.

They urged 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 told Swissport about a "failure of duty of care" under the Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

GMB says that following talks on Tuesday, Swissport agreed to allow pop-up posters at check-in and boarding gates urging passengers to treat staff with respect.

An agreement was also reached to improve and increase training on how to de-escalate potential trouble and to bring in reporting procedures to allow every incident to be recorded.

GMB is to discuss the response with workers and if they disagree that the measures are enough - there could still be a consultative ballot over industrial action. It is, however, felt that there will be a 'wait and see' period to see what impact the changes have in practice.

The union has welcomed the new measures.

GMB Scotland organiser, Robert Deavy, said: “We welcome Swissport’s determination to deal with what has become an increasing problem and a daily worry for staff facing horrific abuse from passengers.

“These workers, most of them women and most of them earning little more than the living wage, should not be expected to endure this kind of verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse.

“We are glad the company has moved quickly to introduce new safeguards and would expect the airports and airlines to fully support the efforts being made to protect workers doing such an important job.”

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Staff at airports believed that passenger frustrations heightened post-Covid with people just anxious to go abroad without any hassle.

Workers, who are paid just over the National Living Wage at between £10.64 and £10.86 per hour said 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.

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 GMB's letter to Swissport said 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 told 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.

The Herald:

The 'banned' poster.

"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."

A Swissport spokesman said: “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 them to abusive, violent or threatening behaviour. We will continue to work with our union partners to address concerns around this issue.”

The company said they disagreed that the posters were ‘banned’. It said they needed to agree the display of posters with the airport and once this was done, distributed posters will be displayed.

Andy Cliffe, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns Glasgow Airport told union leaders in a letter that he was "concerned" to learn of the issues raised by staff saying they had a "zero-tolerance approach to any form of disruptive or abusive behaviour".

"Our security team and Police Scotland colleagues would welcome the opportunity to meet with your  members to hear directly about their concerns. Everyone who works at Glasgow Airport should always  do so in a safe environment and I would like to assure you and your members that they have our full  support."