A 65-year-old American Airlines flight attendant who had twice been honoured as a Flight Service Champion has died after contracting Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the Coronavirus. Paul Frishkorn, a long-serving Philadephia-based flight attendant has been named as the first American Airlines crew member to have died from the illness.
“Our industry, our airline and all of us have been affected by COVID-19 in different ways. But until now, we hadn’t lost one of our own,” commented the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents American’s 30,000 crew members.
“This loss hits home in a very different, personal way from the headlines,” a joint statement from Lori Bassani, APFA’s president and Jill Surdek, American’s SVP of flight service read.
Paul had worked as a flight attendant since 1997 and had long helped colleagues as a union representative – first at US Airways and then American when the two airlines merged. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) remembered Paul from his time at US Airways as “amazing, and totally selfless”.
According to Tracy Sear, a flight attendant who worked with Paul and who spoke with CNN, many flight attendants at the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline are becoming increasingly concerned about the risk of being exposed to Covid-19 while at work.
“Flight attendants are very much on edge right now,” she told CNN.
“Our hearts go out to Paul’s loved ones, many of whom work for American. We are working directly with them to ensure they are cared for during this extraordinarily difficult time. Paul will be missed by the customers he cared for and everyone at American who worked with him.”Joint statement from APFA and American Airlines
Lori Bassani criticised the lack of social distancing measures available to flight attendants and urged American to do more. “To exacerbate that situation, our company designed the interiors of our aircraft by stuffing in as many seats as possible,” Bassani said in an internal memo last week.
“In other words, social distancing is not only impossible in our workplace, it puts our flight attendants at more risk of contracting COVID-19. We are lucky to maybe get a few inches’ worth of distance, much less 6 feet,” the statement continued.
A few days ago, American backtracked on a policy that banned flight attendants from wearing protective face masks on flights. The airline faced a backlash when a flight attendant was threatened with disciplinary action for wearing a mask on a domestic flight. American, however, insisted that crew would have to bring their own mask.
The airline has also cut back it’s in-flight service in order to reduce interaction between flight attendants and customers. The cutbacks will last until further notice.
“We’ve taken enhanced steps to provide our team members with a safe, healthy and clean working environment,” a spokesperson for American said in response to the news that a flight attendant had died from Covid-19.
“If a team member doesn’t feel comfortable coming to work we are encouraging them to take vacation, sick time or leave.”
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.