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Flight attendants aren’t ready to ditch face masks, but pandemic challenges crews

By on September 3, 2021 0

Last week, the Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants Union asked members a question on its Facebook page: Should the union “advocate to end the mask mandate sooner?”

Tired flight attendants’ responses ranged from “Complete the warrant” to “NO!” They also showed the evolutionary struggle facing airline crew members as their industry tries to recover from the pandemic.

No, flight attendants are not ready to ditch face masks on planes until the federal mandate expires on September 13, and they may not even be ready to do so then, according to reports. leaders of some of the country’s aviation workers’ unions. But they say they are still under tremendous stress 16 months after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked their industry.

Enforcement of face mask standards is just one of the issues baffling flight attendants as they increasingly become those responsible for enforcing airline passenger decorum.

Traffic rebounded faster than airlines expected, resulting in delays, cancellations and cranky passengers at airports. Flyers have crept into planes. Passengers sometimes became violent with flight attendants.

“Getting the operation back on track and getting people to do both stages together again is a lot,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents flight attendants. United Airlines. “And then it’s made worse by the fact that almost everyone who shows up at the airport gate right now is like a first-time traveler because they haven’t flown for so long.

“And don’t forget that the flight attendants have also had a very stressful year.”

They are not yet ready to give up masks as less than half of Americans are fully vaccinated and new strains such as the delta variant are spreading. Even with a growing number of passengers hostile to face masks, flight attendants say they support the rule.

“Believe me, are our flight attendants happy that face masks are going away?” Hell, yes, ”Nelson said. “People who complain about wearing it on their two-hour flight, flight attendants wear it for a 14-hour day.”

The unions also want to ensure that flight attendants are allowed to continue to wear masks after the term of office ends.

Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson spoke last week at a protest outside Tenet Healthcare headquarters in Dallas, where nurses from St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts handed over a 16-foot-long petition signed by 700 striking nurses.  Nelson came in solidarity with nurses who did not feel supported during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson spoke last week at a protest outside Tenet Healthcare headquarters in Dallas, where nurses from St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts handed over a 16-foot-long petition signed by 700 striking nurses. Nelson came in solidarity with nurses who did not feel supported during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shelby Tauber / Special Contributor)

Another big problem is alcohol. Food delays this summer have resulted in limited beverage service on some American Airlines flights. American and Southwest have both delayed the sale of alcohol to economy class customers after unruly passenger incidents spiked.

Some of the alcohol problems are due to airport restaurants that have been allowed to sell take-out alcohol, said Julie Hedrick, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 24,500 flight attendants. ‘American Airlines.

“We can’t tell if someone has water or a soft drink or alcohol in a cup,” Hedrick said.

Then there are the passengers who brought one-shot-sized liquor bottles onto the planes. Drinking alcohol purchased off an airplane is against the rules of all major airlines.

Many flight attendants from the United States based in Fort Worth and southwest Dallas have just returned from long-term leave or time off that carriers instituted to financially survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly $ 60 billion in federal payroll support has helped keep those employees paid, but union leaders say there have been backlogs at training centers so flight attendants are ready to work again .

At American Airlines, more than 3,200 flight attendants are still on voluntary long-term leave and are not expected to return until 2022, Hedrick said.

“I fly a lot with our flight attendants who have been on leave, and they are relieved to be back,” Hedrick said. “But they ask when the PSP (Payroll Support Program) ends in September.”

Nelson and Hedrick both said the unions were not anticipating any holidays in September. United Airlines, which has been the most direct on airlines’ financial woes, told employees in June that it would not need time off this fall due to the increase in summer travelers, according to CNBC. Southwest has made similar statements to its employees, and executives at other airlines have said they do not plan to seek more federal relief, even though there are still financial challenges for the airline industry.

Airlines still need business passengers and international routes to return to pre-pandemic service levels, especially in the fall when leisure traffic typically declines.

“The flight returned much faster than expected which is great news for all of our flight attendants,” said Hedrick. “It was difficult for us when we put 8,000 people on leave last year.”

A Southwest Airlines flight taxis to the Dallas Love Field departure gate.
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Southwest Airlines flight attendants ‘stretched to the limit’ as cancellations drag on

Southwest Airlines flight attendants say they have had to “bear the brunt” of weeks of weather cancellations, technical difficulties and weather delays that have pushed crew members to the limit. to take a sick day, which Southwest is authorized to do when the flight operation is having difficulty.


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