CHICAGO (WLS) -- Airline industry union workers gathered near O'Hare International Airport Wednesday to share concerns about the growing threat of "air rage."
For months, many of us have watched air rage incidents caught on video, but the airline industry's frontline workers are much closer to the threat, and sometimes, they are the victims.
"Things are getting worse every single day," said Ivy Gerdes, who works as a customer service lead for an airline.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been 4,498 unruly passenger incidents this year, with more than 70% mask-related.
As of Monday, 19 people have been charged in federal court in connection with unruly passenger incidents, according to Justice Department.
A Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement: "Interference with flight crew members is a federal offense that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The Justice Department treats interference with flight crew members the same as every other case we investigate. We use prosecutorial discretion in deciding which cases are appropriate for federal prosecution (egregiousness, were lives in danger, victim impact, mental health, unscheduled landing, repeat offense, mitigating factors, etc.)"
"We are on pace right now to exceed the amount of incidents in 2021 that we've had in airline history," said Scott Pejas, Association of Flight Attendants.
Union leaders stress this isn't just a problem for airline workers.
"That distraction for safety professionals on that plane is an opportunity for a dangerous attack, a dangerous behavior, and then an opportunity for someone whose intent is not for that plane to land safely," said Corliss King, Transport Workers Union of America.
Flight attendants, pilots, ramp agents and even terminal baristas were represented at the air rage town hall as the group called for increased federal oversight from the department of justice and the FAA.
"We cannot have you flying, being banned on one airline, then turning around the next day and buying the ticket on another," Pejas said.
Organizers also want the FAA's current zero-tolerance policy made permanent, meaning no warnings or counseling before regulators recommend fines as high as $37,000.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the FAA said: "The FAA is meeting with airports, airlines, unions, and others to discuss what additional steps the FAA and our industry partners can collectively take to continue driving down the number of unruly passenger incidents."