A union which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines across the United States, including United Airlines, wants airlines to axe all but the most essential air services to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, it was revealed at a United Airlines townhall meeting that 71 flight attendants and 26 pilots have so far tested positive for Coronavirus.
It was also revealed that six more pilots are still awaiting test results and 42 pilots have been temporarily stood down because they had close contact with crew who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
As part of a multi-billion dollar bailout package, airlines who sign up to President Trump’s CARES Act will have to provide a certain level of ‘essential’ domestic air service. In some cases, this will mean flying between destinations badly hit by the Coronavirus or flying nearly empty planes to maintain a schedule.
“To be clear, we have been and are currently calling for a halt to leisure travel and coordinated efforts to limit passenger flights to essential service only,” explained Association of Flight Attendant’s (AFA-CWA) president Sara Nelson.
“We are resolute about this, but it is not an easy task and we support our airlines and our government in navigating this complicated but necessary planning.”
“We encourage the administration to take additional steps to cut redundant service that puts airline workers at unnecessary risk,” Nelson continued.
Nelson also called for U.S. authorities to follow the lead of the United Kingdom and Sweden who have started to redeploy grounded flight attendants to help their overstretched healthcare systems deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Both countries have recognised the high degree of resilience and professionalism, coupled with advanced First Aid training that flight attendants possess as being particularly useful.
Hundreds of cabin crew at airlines including Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and British Airways are set to volunteer at massive field hospitals in the coming weeks while continuing to be paid by the government to be kept on as flight attendants. Hundreds more at grounded Scandinavian airline SAS are receiving fast track training to prepare them for redeployment.
“As flights are pulled down, it may be that aviation’s first responders have time to help. We are discussing with government and medical support services the critical need for extra hands – either through virtual on-line assistance or hands-on at hospitals and medical centers,” Nelson explained.
“Flight Attendants who are willing to help may be in a unique position to do so, with our baseline immediate response training and skills among our membership that include credentialed medical professionals,” she continued.
While AFA-CWA is calling for halt to all leisure travel, most passengers have already heeded federal and local warnings. Yesterday, the United load factor was just 13 per cent, with a mere 30,000 passengers carried across its entire network – on a normal day, United would expect to carry around 550,000 passengers.
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.