Under the Radar: How Airline Outsourcing of Passenger Services Compromises Security and Service Quality at LAX


Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the city’s most prized public assets. As the fifth-largest passenger airport in the world, LAX is a major economic engine for the Los Angeles region. Given the airport’s importance to the regional economy, local officials have recently undertaken major initiatives to improve operations at LAX. Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city agency that operates LAX, will spend $11 billion over the next decade upgrading and renovating the airport’s terminal buildings and runways.

The airport’s size and prominence also make it a prime terrorist target. Al-Qaeda plotted to bomb the airport in 1999, seeing it as a symbol of American commerce. SinceSeptember 11, 2001, airports have become one of the highest priorities for homeland security, and the federal government has made major investments in technology and staffing to prevent terrorist attacks at airports. However, these efforts to improve airport security and operations at LAX are undermined by the airlines’ contracting system, which jeopardizes public safety and undermines the quality of services provided to passengers.

Our survey of nearly 300 passenger service workers at LAX has found that the airlines have allowed their contractors to put the security and the health of the public at risk, while failing to provide adequate services for passengers with disabilities. Meanwhile, LAWA has little oversight in this area, even though these contractors provide vital security and passenger services on airport property. Although the duties of airline contracted service workers are vital to the health and safety of the traveling public, these workers are poorly compensated, receive little training, and have few incentives to stay in their jobs long term.