Flight attendants working on Afghanistan evacuation flights have been advised to pack their own supplies of water, disposable gloves and sanitation wipes after delays caused by a bottleneck at Washington Dulles International Airport saw Afghan refugees waiting on planes for between 8 to 12 hours after arriving from U.S. military bases in Europe and the Middle East.
For safety reasons, flight attendants or other suitably qualified personnel must remain on the planes until all passengers have deplaned in case an emergency necessitates an evacuation.
In the rush to get Afghan refugees out of crowded and unsuitable military bases and onto U.S. soil, a bottleneck has been created at Dulles where Customs and Border Protection officers must process all the passengers and make sure that none have escaped security vetting before reaching the United States.
On Thursday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported a line of seven planes waiting to deplane passengers onto the tarmac at Dulles. Each one was reportedly filled to capacity.
In an effort to get as many eligible people out of Afghanistan and into the United States as possible, the pentagon enrolled the support of commercial airlines under its Civil Reserve Air Fleet program. American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines, along with Hawaiian, Omni and Atlas Air have all committed aircraft and crew for the operation.
Flight attendants working on these special flights are all volunteers but they have been warned that while rewarding, CRAF flights could also prove to be both physically and mentally exhausting.
“Flight Attendants should prepare for long duty days, intense conditions onboard, and unanticipated operational delays upon arrival,” warned the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), the union that represents flight attendants at United and Hawaiian.
“We are engaged with airline management and the government related to evacuation flying in order to address issues for Flight Attendants,” a memo from the union reassured flight attendants who have been dealing with longer working hours than they could ever have imagined.
“Flight Attendants should also plan to pack supplies for personal use including water, sanitation wipes, gloves, extra masks, and normal supplies,” the memo advised.
The Department of Homeland Security said it had been working as fast as possible but that checks required to keep the United States safe meant that it was taking longer to process Afghan refugees than originally thought.
“Over the last several days, we have worked with urgency and with care to enhance screening and vetting operations such that we make these operations more efficient without compromising national security,” an official from the DHS said of the situation.
Along with security vetting, all of the evacuees must be tested for COVID-19 and have other paperwork rechecked. American citizens and green card holders can leave and go to the destination of their choice, while refugees are being transported to military bases around the country.
Southwest Airlines is one of the carriers supporting the Pentagon in moving refugees around the United. States. Although, not part of the CRAF operation, Southwest has been awarded military charter work to undertake the mission.
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.