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Airline workers rally on air rage

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SAN FRANCISCO — Airline employees rallied around the globe Thursday to send a message to lawmakers and passengers: Keep the friendly skies friendly.

Unions representing flight attendants and ground crews declared a "day of action" against so-called air rage, saying inappropriate behavior is potentially dangerous and is on the rise.

"Airline workers have a right to come to work and go home in the same condition," Capt. Trevor Jenson said in Sydney, Australia, where staff from Qantas and Ansett airlines called for stronger measures to counter air rage.

Figures provided by the International Transport Workers' Federation, an umbrella organization for the unions, said air rage incidents have increased from 1,132 in 1994 to 5,416 three years ago.

The union also said U.S. air crews have reported a huge increase in unruly passengers, with more than 500 last year after just 66 in 1997.

The union wants governments to sign an international convention that would close loopholes to ensure prosecution of air-rage offenders. It also wants airlines and airport authorities to provide training and restraint equipment, and to introduce coherent security policies.

On Tuesday, a Continental Airlines flight returned to Anchorage, Alaska, after a passenger allegedly threw a can of beer at a flight attendant and bit a pilot on the arm.

Incidents like that are on the rise, said San Francisco airport spokesman Ron Wilson. San Francisco has had 111 in the last 18 months, from refusing to put out a cigarette in an airplane bathroom to being noisy to grabbing a flight attendant.

"If you're interfering with crew members in the performance of their duties, that's air rage," Wilson said.

The fine for assaulting a crew member is $1,100, Wilson said, although the FAA is considering increasing it to $25,000. Disrupting a flight can

carry a sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

While some unruly passengers simply disturb the peace, others threaten the lives of passengers and crew.

In March, carpenter Peter Bradley allegedly broke into the cockpit of a San Francisco-bound Alaska Airlines flight, lunged for the controls and shouted, "I'm going to kill you."

Passengers and crew members tackled Bradley and restrained him until the plane landed.

He has been charged with committing a violent act likely to endanger an airplane and assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member. Each is a federal charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison.