Some flight attendants at American Airlines claim they are still unable to get their hands on vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer despite reassurances from the airline that supplies are being shipped to where they are needed. Sources say flight attendants have resorted to raiding emergency so-called ‘Universal Precaution Kits’ which should normally only ever be opened when actually dealing with a case of communicable disease onboard.
American Airlines has previously told its flight attendants to leave the UPK’s alone because it would prevent colleagues from accessing vitally important equipment should a passenger or crew member show symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness on the next flight. Crew members, however, say they’ve had no choice but to raid the limited stock to get their hands on PPE.
“We’ve been given zero PPE — zero — from the company. No sanitizer. Zero. Nothing,” one anonymous Texas-based AA flight attendant was quoted as saying about the situation. “A lot of catering stations are out of the gloves now because the demand has spiked — a lot of times the gloves are not where they should be, so it’s no guarantee,” the crew member continued.
“We had two to three masks on the airplane, in our emergency kits. But of course they were pillaged at the moment this started going down. So those have disappeared.”
Other flight attendants have complained that reassurances of supplies coming through didn’t always materialize. Like many airlines, American has found itself in an arms race to get hold of PPE while also ensuring that it doesn’t limit the supply to frontline healthcare workers.
American, though, says it continues to work “diligently” to get hold of the PPE equipment that flight attendants are crying out for.
“We’re in the process of shipping thousands of 8-ounce sanitizer bottles to each crew service center,” the airline said in an email to staffers last week. “And in the next few days, each base will receive their share of over 700 large gallon containers of sanitizer. We’ll provide small 4-ounce empty bottles for crew members to fill up and take with them, or you can fill your own small container.”
“We’re also expecting a shipment of more than 140,000 surgical masks and will be sending them to the bases by the end of the week at the latest,” the email continued.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), the union that represents American’s 28,000 crew members, says it has been demanding PPE for months but that its concerns had been “repeatedly downplayed or dismissed.”
APFA said American’s management team had been “nonchalant” to the risk posed by the novel Coronavirus and had simply told flight attendants to wash their hands. Until a couple of weeks ago, American even banned its crew members from wearing their own face masks on domestic flights.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that a minimum of 100 American Airlines flight attendants had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and at least crew members has died after contracting the virus.
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.