American Airlines has allegedly told its 30,000 strong community of flight attendants that it will not relax its controversial attendance policy during the Coronavirus outbreak. On Thursday, an American Airlines pilot was confirmed to have the virus, which is officially known as COVID-19. The airline did not provide details about what flights the pilot had taken or the condition of crew members who had worked with him.
“There are no changes to the American Airlines attendance policy,” the airline told staffers in an internal memo this week. “These policies are designed for you to stay home when necessary and vary by workgroup,” it continued.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) has previously been highly critical of the attendance programme which was first introduced in September 2018, warning that sick flight attendants would continue to work flight because they otherwise feared being sacked.
The attendance programme is a points-based system that ‘awards’ points for periods of sickness, failing to report for a flight or turning up to work late. Additional points can also be awarded during periods of high demand such as during holiday events.
The points-based system can eventually lead to termination:
- 4-6 points: Flight attendants will be subject to a performance review
- 8 points: Could result in a final written warning
- Over 10 points: Possible termination
In a recent win for the union, an independent arbitration panel decided that American could not award more than three points for any one period of sickness but the policy remains materially unchanged.
There is now a fear that flight attendants who have already accumulated points over the last 12-months will not self-quarantine but the airline has moved to allay those fears saying that anyone who thinks they have the virus or is told to isolate will not accumulate points. The airline has also guaranteed employees will receive two weeks of full pay during this time.
American said it would “continue to look at all ways we can care for our team during this stressful time,” but added that some details were still being negotiated with relevant its unions.
Yesterday, the Dallas Forth Worth-based carrier announced a slew of changes to its in-flight service in order to minimise the chance of transmission of the virus. Customers in all cabins will now only be served drinks in plastic or paper cups and there will be no refills in the same glass.
Like many other carriers, American has suspended hot-towel service in applicable cabins. The airline has already stopped displaying self-service mid-flight snacks and will now ask flight attendants not to fill personal water bottles brought onboard by passengers.
While the union concedes that official advice from the CDC maintains that the use of surgical masks is ineffective, APFA has called on American to provision disposable masks on all flights. Currently, flight attendants are only allowed to wear surgical masks at their discretion on services to Asia.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.