Why driving an airport tug can be a dangerous job

Baggage tugs, like this one at Kuching International Airport in Malaysia, can be hazardous to drive. Photo: Simon_Sees, via Creative Commons.

Baggage tugs, like this one at Kuching International Airport in Malaysia, can be hazardous to drive. Photo: Simon_Sees, via Creative Commons.

The baggage tractor driver at Los Angeles International Airport who died in February, apparently after falling out of his tug, was not wearing his seatbelt, I reported in today’s newspaper. This was a violation of company policy and federal guidelines.

My story was less about the incident in which Menzies Aviation employee Cesar Valenzuela died, and more about the overall difficulty in keeping tug drivers safe. Two drivers — one current and one former –told me airlines and contractors are constantly reminding workers to wear their seltbelts. Most do, the workers told me, but some do not.

There is also the issue of distracted driving. One ramp worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of getting in trouble, said this:

“I see some guys out there wearing earbuds listening to music, which is mental distraction, plus it obviously limits your ability to hear if a plane is nearby, another vehicle is honking, or if a co-worker is yelling for your attention.

“One guy with earbuds drove across the path of a plane that was pulling into the gate, forcing the plane to brake hard. That could have been catastrophic. My whole feeling behind that is if you get into a wreck or hurt yourself while not following the rules, it’s your own fault.”

While reporting this story, I learned that LAX had two other tug accidents during a two-month period in fall 2013. Here’s a summary of an Oct. 15 incident from an airport report:

“At Terminal 3, Gate 35, a tug driver lost control of and fell of his tug. Then (the tug) continued to travel, colliding with a cargo pallet and mobile bag belt before penetrating the wall adjoining a T-3 Ramp office. No injuries were reported.”

And here’s a report from a less serious Dec. 2 incident:

“…An American Airlines employee (was) injured by a tug. Employee denied medical treatment by LAFD and stated that he would go to American Airlines assigned clinic. Injury report was taken by (airport police.)

These problems are not unique to LAX. In 2012, after a Delta employee in Atlanta was ejected from a tug and died, the airline reached a settlement with Osha to improve its safety program. “OSHA cited Delta for violating 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.132, which requires employers to provide employees with personal protective equipment, including – in this case – seat belts,” Osha said in a press release.

After the settlement, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a Delta memo that said the airline had been averaging 14 tug ejections per year, about half of which were resulting in serious injury.

As far as the LAX incident in February, a spokeswoman for Menzies told me the company began its seatbelt policy in January 2013.

“Menzies seat-belt policy is quite simple,” spokeswoman Maya Pogoda. “Anytime a Menzies employee leaves the gate area, he or she is required to wear their seat belt.”


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Is the punishment for bringing a gun through airport security too harsh?

Someone tried to bring this gun through security last week at Seattle's airport. Photo: TSA

Someone tried to bring this gun through security last week at Seattle’s airport. Do you think the punishment for doing this should be lessened? Photo: TSA

Here’s something that probably wouldn’t fly in California.

Georgia airports bust so many travelers for bringing guns through security that some members of the state legislature want to loosen the penalties for carrying a firearm through a checkpoint, according to the Associated Press.

The story talks about a man named Gary Lawrence who mistakenly brought a loaded 22-caliber revolver through Atlanta’s airport, one he usually uses “as protection against venomous snakes and coyotes.” He spent a night in jail and was charged with a misdemeanor, according to the AP story.

AP says some Georgia legislators think that this is unfair. They seem think people shouldn’t be published for what might be considered an honest mistake.

Now, gun-friendly lawmakers in Georgia want people licensed to carry a gun to avoid arrest if they accidentally take their firearms into the security checkpoint at the country’s busiest airport and willingly leave the security line. It occurs as gun rights groups in Georgia push state lawmakers to broaden the places where people can legally take guns, including churches and bars.

According to the TSA, travelers take guns through security a lot more often than you might think. Here’s the TSA tally from last week, which it published on its blog.

Gun NumbersUntitled

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Customs and Border Protection to change definition of “household”

The federal government is getting more progressive.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that same sex couples will receive the same courtesies as heterosexual couples at airports, ports and border crossings starting next month. Specifically, CBP is becoming much more liberal about what constitutes a “household.” Under the new definition, a household includes:

  • Two adults who are in a committed relationship including, but not limited to, long-term companions and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships where the partners are financially interdependent, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else.

Interestingly, this is being spun in part as a cost saving move. “CBP expects this process streamlining to save up to $2.8 million annually in personnel time while maintaining the highest standards of security.

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How JFK Airport deals with “VIP movements,” according to the N.Y. Times

Before last month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York, John F. Kennedy Airport counted almost 250 different “VIP” movements, according to a great story in the New York Times.

As you might expect, it’s not easy to coordinate that many flights, especially when many of the dignitaries arrived in New York on private planes and required a police escort to get to Manhattan. According to the story, “…Secret Service and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided varying levels of protection depending on the ‘threat perception.'” Some world leaders got the so-called “heavy weapons package.”

You might be surprised to know the airfield only shuts down for two people — the President and Vice President of the United States. And even then, it only shuts down for 15 minutes or less, according to the Times.

I think my favorite part of the story is this gem:

Some years can be more complicated than others. When Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the General Assembly, he would have the pilots turn off their plane’s transponder as it approached the airport, causing it to disappear from the screen used in the command center to track aircraft, Lieutenant Lomonaco said. Or his plane would veer north away from the city “trying to be a little evasive” before landing, he added.

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MeetAtTheAirport.com is looking for a spokesman. And it could be you!

Do you love to travel and want to be a reality television star?

I believe I have found the job for you – on Craiglist, no less.

The dating website MeetAtTheAirport.com – yes, such a thing exists – is seeking a national spokesman. You must be a single male between the age of 25 and 35. And you must be willing to do lots of travel, according to the ad.

Auditions are Friday at 11 a.m. in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Read on for the full advertisement.

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