Flight attendants at American Airlines have asked lawmakers for better protection and ‘hazard pay’ on top of their normal wages to keep on operating what have been deemed essential flights during the Coronavirus outbreak. So far, more than 100 American Airlines flight attendants have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 and two flight attendants at the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline have now sadly died after being infected with the virus.
American Airlines has signed up to the CARES Act which will cover payroll expenses for the airline’s 27,000 flight attendants and other employees until at least September – whether those workers are surplus to requirements or not. But the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) would like flight attendants who actually work a flight to be offered hazard pay under a proposed ‘Heros fund’.
“Hundreds of our members have tested positive for the virus, and we know this number continues to grow,” APFA’s new national president Julie Hedrick wrote in a letter to Congressman Peter DeFazio, head of the House Transportation Committee.
“Many more may have the virus but are asymptomatic and go untested due to the testing shortage. Tragically, two of our members have passed away from this disease. Under the current circumstances, Flight Attendants worry that every time we step on an airplane, we are putting ourselves, our families, and the flying public at risk. As safety professionals, we take this very seriously,” the letter continues.
Hedrick revealed that even with a much-reduced schedule, flight attendants at the airline require around 800,000 surgical masks every single month in order to work safely. After initial delays, American Airlines has started to provision masks, gloves and hand sanitizer onboard all flights.
She also called for the wearing for face masks to be mandatory for passengers – a rule that has already been applied in neighbouring Canada, as well as in Italy and the United Arab Emirates. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a face mask or covering in environments where its difficult to maintain social distancing but the guidelines do not have to be followed.
“These are precautions that must be taken. If we are honest, we all know that without these commonsense steps, our industry will not fully recover,” Hedrick cautions.
Fellow flight attendant union, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has called for the end of leisure flights during the COVID-19 pandemic and its a call echoed by their counterparts at APFA. Hedrick warns that while passenger loads are much reduced at the moment, airlines are trying to encourage bookings with $20 fares even at the height of the pandemic.
“These fares put everyone at unnecessary risk,” Hedrick says, while arguing that simply blocking the middle seat on some flights is enough to ensure social distancing. A uniform policy across airlines must be adopted she says.
Hedrick also argued that despite improved sickness policies, some flight attendants were still reporting for work even with symptoms because they feared disciplinary action. American Airlines will provide a two-week “pandemic pay” for any flight attendant with COVID-19 but a controversial attendance policy remains in force. Sickness related to Coronavirus will not lead to points being issued.
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.