Some flight attendants aren’t even bothering to report being assaulted by unruly passengers because they are simply too exhausted to go through the rigmarole of filing incident reports and getting law enforcement involved.
Nas Lewis, a Chicago-based flight attendant, told the New York Times (subscription) about her hellish summer on the frontlines for a major U.S. airline. In May, Lewis was shoved by a passenger but the perpetrator went unchallenged because she was too tired to file a report.
“There’s not enough people,” said Ms Lewis who runs a mental health group for flight attendants across social media called th|AIR|apy. “We are at our wit’s end,” continued Lewis who encourages flight attendants to take care of their mental health and take time off when needed.
For many flight attendants, however, the idea of taking time off is just a pipe dream. Flight attendants complain of working exhausting 14-hour shifts with airline scheduling departments assigning crew to four or five flights per day with minimum rest hotel stays in between these gruelling duties.
But even then, flight attendants at both Southwest and American Airlines say their airlines have failed to arrange transport to the hotel or even a hotel room at all. There have been reports of flight attendants being forced to sleep in baggage reclaim halls because of a lack of accommodation.
Airlines were quick to ramp up schedules to make the most of the bounce back in travel demand but some carriers are beginning to realise they’ve pushed their staff too far.
Southwest recently apologized to staffers for the “significant strain” it had put them under over the last few months. Flight attendants at the Dallas-based carrier say they are “weary, exhausted and they can’t take any more”.
On Thursday, Southwest confirmed it would be trimming its schedules for the last four months of 2021 with an average of 162 flights cut per day between October 7 and November 5. In a note to employees, chief executive Gary Kelly said he was “100% dedicated to improving the quality of your workday.”
Despite the uncertainty caused by the delta variant, airlines are beginning to realize they can’t keep on working staff as close to the limit as they have been doing. American Airlines, United and JetBlue are all actively recruiting flight attendants after encouraging crew to take voluntary exits last year.
Overambitious schedules and bad weather, combined with not enough staff have proved disastrous for some airlines. Spirit suffered a mega meltdown earlier this month which rumbled on for days because it couldn’t get flight crew to where they needed to be.
The situation was initially made even worse when one base manager suggested staff could volunteer for free to help Spirit recover.
“Staffing is tight,” Paul Hartshorn, spokesperson for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) which represents crew at American Airlines. “There’s not a lot of wiggle room for storms and maintenance delays.”
“So many people were let go so quickly on an extended leave of absence, early retirement, that they’re struggling to meet the travel demand,” Hartshorn continued.
The industry trade body, Airlines for America insists, however, that its members are taking the situation seriously and “recognize the importance of prioritizing the safety and well-being of all employees, who are the backbone of our industry.”
Addressing concerns that flight attendants aren’t getting enough rest, a spokesperson for the group that represents the like of American Airlines and Delta said airline “comply fully with robust F.A.A. regulations, which include stringent rest requirements and limitations on duty, as well as with all federal policies.”
The assaults, though, keep on coming. The Federal Aviation Administration has recorded close to 4,000 unruly passenger reports since the beginning of 2021 prompting the agency to hand down more than $1 million in civil penalties for disruptive behavior.
The FAA has also pleaded with local enforcement agencies to file criminal charges against unruly passengers noting that many flight attendants assaults go unpunished because police departments defer inflight incidents to the FBI.
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.