KENNER, La. — 26-year-old Jermani Thompson was working as a baggage handling supervisor Tuesday night. Her team was unloading a Frontier flight shortly before 10:30 p.m., when, according to her employer, Thompson's hair got tangled in the machinery of the belt loader. She was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.
It's still unclear what killed her. The Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office plans to perform an autopsy in the next few days to find out exactly what happened.
Thompson worked for GAT, a company that performs ground services for airlines. Mike Hough, CEO of GAT, says the company's leaders are "heartbroken and are supporting her family and her friends as best as we are able."
The timeline of the accident is still unclear. But multiple travelers at the airport questioned how it could happen in the first place. They questioned whether company safety policies go far enough. "You wear a hairnet in a restaurant," said Patrick Zertuche, who is visiting from San Antonio, "why aren't you doing a better job of protecting people in a workplace that is potentially so dangerous?"
Traveler Blaire Bass added the policies are, "something the airport itself needs to take on." Bass said she hopes authorities, "figure it out, and this never happens again."
WWL-TV obtained a copy of GAT's employee handbook. On page 30, it reads: "Long hairstyles should be worn with hair pulled back off the face and neck to avoid interfering with job performance." It is unknown whether Thompson was following this policy at the time of the accident.
Hough insists GAT would "never prioritize on-time performance above safety," adding that he reminded employees of that policy in a company-wide email last week.
In a follow-up question, WWL-TV asked how strictly the hair policy is enforced. Hough has yet to respond.
Spokespersons for both Armstrong International and Frontier Airlines offered their condolences to Thompson's loved ones.
Kevin Dolliole, the airport's Director, said in part, "Jermani was a part of our Airport family, and we will continue to support one another in any way we can during this trying time.”