Category Archives: AFA

Flight Attendants: To DOT and HHS: Require masks, PPE, and suspend leisure travel

AFA-Association of Flight Attendants issued this press release:

Dear Secretary Chao and Secretary Azar:

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines. Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders, required by federal regulations to help ensure the safety, health, and security of our globally-interconnected aviation system. While this global system is integral to our modern economy, its essential inter-connectedness also provides a convenient pathway for opportunistic pathogens to hitch rides on unsuspecting crewmembers and travelers and spread all over the world. As some of the most frequent travelers, flight attendants feel a deep responsibility to ensure that our workplace risks of acquiring and spreading communicable diseases are minimized as much as possible. We are calling on the Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services and other relevant agencies, to use its authority to mandate masks in aviation for crew, employees and passengers; require personal protective equipment; and end all leisure travel until the virus is contained.

Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China, flight attendants have been on the front lines of the growing global pandemic that has now infected more than 2.5M persons worldwide and contributed to over 175K hospital deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.1 Flight attendants have been hard hit by the virus. At airlines employing AFA member flight attendants, at least 250 have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and flight attendants have died as a result of the virus too. The scars run deep; recent media reports document the guilt felt by those who question if we are helping to spread the virus,2 feelings of fear and grief as coworkers die,3 and wonder about when this will all be over.4

Confronting the Virus on the Frontlines of Transportation

Information about the virus has increased and changed in the course of confronting it on the frontlines of transportation. When the novel coronavirus first began to spread, it was believed that the virus was transmitted more or less exclusively through respiratory droplets expelled when persons having COVID-19 symptoms sneeze or cough. The droplets could then be breathed in by another person in close contact, or could settle on a nearby surface to get picked up on another’s fingers, leading to an infection through subsequent contact with the mouth, nose or eyes.

Today, research suggests that the virus may spread in other ways and over greater distances. For example, in hospital wards in Wuhan, China, the virus “was widely distributed on floors, computer mice, trash cans, and sickbed handrails and was detected in air ≈4 m from patients.”5 Two other studies from China call into question the early assumption that only symptomatic persons spread the virus. In the first, the authors write that “[o]ur study confirms asymptomatic and human-to-human transmission through close contacts in familial and hospital settings.”6 In the second, an investigation of a two-family cluster of infected individuals suggests that the “infections resulted from contact with an infected but potentially presymptomatic traveler from the city of Wuhan.”7 Another study from China points to evidence of indirect transmission of the virus in a shopping mall, “perhaps resulting from virus contamination of common objects, virus aerosolization in a confined space, or spread from asymptomatic infected persons.”8

These newer findings support the critical need for strict observance of social distancing9 and cloth- or mask-wearing measures10 to help “flatten the curve”11 until an effective vaccine is available and sufficiently large populations are inoculated. Since the goal of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to make a vaccine available for emergency use by early 2021,12 and widespread inoculation will surely take many more months, it is clear that strict public health measures will be necessary for the next year and perhaps longer.

A typical routine for a Flight Attendant workday includes travel from home to the airport, often on public transportation, and at other times in a personal car followed by a bus or shuttle van from the parking lot. Flight attendants then pass by the airport check-in areas and through the security checkpoints, a crew briefing room, and on to the gate. On the airplane, we provide routine and emergency services while interacting frequently and in close proximity to passengers and other crewmembers. After our flying day is done, we take a shuttle, public transport, or car to return home, unless we are on a multi-day trip which includes taking a shuttle from the airport to a layover hotel and finding access to food. On the airplane and at all of these public places, flight attendants come into repeated contact with the general and traveling public.

Mandate Masks in Airports and on Airplanes

Since flight attendant ability to practice social distancing is challenging in the aircraft cabin and on most other forms of public transportation, it is essential that we wear masks as often as possible so long as COVID-19 remains a threat to public health. In addition, passengers on all modes of public transport should be encouraged to wear masks in the short term and mandated by emergency regulation as soon as practicable. This will further minimize risks to themselves, the public transport workforce on which they are reliant, and our healthcare infrastructure, which must cope with the surge of infected patients unless we curb the spread. Seven U.S. states now require wearing masks in public.13 More to the point of transportation specifically, Canada encourages the use of masks on all modes of public transport and requires all air travelers to wear masks that “cover their mouth and nose … at screening checkpoints, … when they cannot physically distance from others, or as directed by the airline employees; and when directed to do so by a public health order or public health official.”14 International air travel has long sought to harmonize procedures for one level of safety to ensure consistency and best practices for operators and passengers.

For travelers using most forms of public transport, the homemade cloth face coverings recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)15 should be sufficient when combined with the additional recommendations below to effectively limit the spread of the virus. For air travelers, we recommend that the federal government provide all airports sufficient numbers of disposable cloth or paper masks that are more effective than homemade masks at limiting viral spread. These should be provided free to all members of the public entering airport buildings with the stipulation that they be worn at all times on airport property and on airplanes, and only removed momentarily when necessary for identity verification or food and drink.

For those transportation sector employees who come into close contact with the traveling public on a regular basis, we recommend that employers be required to provide workers surgical masks or N95 respirators.16 We recognize the need to prioritize respirators for front line healthcare workers; therefore, provision of N95 respirators to non-healthcare workers will necessarily be dependent on sufficient availability. We are hopeful that availability will increase as supply chain bottlenecks clear up with production improvement and reduced rates of COVID-19 hospitalization.

Required Provisions of PPE and Resource Management

In addition to masks, employers must also be required to provide workers clean, properly provisioned handwashing stations with soap and running water and 60% or better alcohol-based rubs/gels or wipes, and disposable gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) as specified by CDC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other relevant federal agencies. For example, for flight attendants tending to sick passengers, CDC recommends the use of PPE contained in Universal Precaution Kits;17 while this is useful guidance, airlines are not required to carry these kits on all flights and they are therefore not always available, so strict federal requirements are clearly in the public interest and a reduction in flights during this crisis assists with resource management.

Protect Essential Service by Air, End Leisure Travel Until Virus Is Contained

Finally, we call on lawmakers and regulators to take further action to limit the spread of the virus by restricting air travel to only that necessary to continue essential services. Airlines are continuing to deliver people, mail, and cargo, uniting families that are grieving or rushing to be with those who have fallen ill, and transporting others who require medical treatment unrelated to the pandemic. These are some of the many essential services provided by aviation to all of our communities – large and small – that must be maintained as the pandemic continues. We believe that protecting this essential service and ensuring air travel is not aiding in spread of the virus requires a halt to all leisure travel until the pandemic is brought under control according to health authorities. We appreciate the swift steps DOT has taken to put in place a process for airlines to request exemptions on flights that do not assist materially in the essential service to our communities. We believe we can all do more together and will work for a brief anti-trust exemption so DOT can coordinate a schedule with airlines to continue essential service only. In addition, we request messaging from all leadership to encourage the public to end leisure travel until we have “flattened the curve.”

Flight attendants, aviation’s first responders, will work tirelessly to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, while staying healthy through careful hand hygiene, social distancing, and the use of appropriate PPE. We look forward to working with our industry and government partners to support our nation’s aviation essential services and help eradicate the COVID-19 threat to public health.

Sincerely,

Sara Nelson International President

1 https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html, accessed April 21, 2020.
2 Cecco, L. ‘We’re a part of the spread’: flight attendant’s guilt over COVID-19. The Guardian. April 2, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/air-canada-flight-attendant-exposed-to-COVID-19, accessed April 21, 2020.
3 Aratani, L. As COVID-19 cases mount, flight attendants grow increasingly fearful of flying. Washington Post. April 8, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/as-COVID-19-cases-mount-flight-attendants-grow-increasingly-fearful- of-flying/2020/04/08/e686eb64-703b-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html, accessed April 21, 2020.
4 Hester, E. I’m a flight attendant. My co-workers are starting to test positive for coronavirus. Los Angeles Times. April 15, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/travel/story/2020-04-15/words-you-dont-want-to-hear-from-a-flight-attendant-i-tested-positive, accessed April 21, 2020.

5 Guo Z-D, Wang Z-Y, Zhang S-F, Li X, Li L, Li C, et al. Aerosol and surface distribution of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 in hospital wards, Wuhan, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 Jul [April 21, 2020]. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.200885

6 Li C, Ji F, Wang L, Wang L, Hao J, Dai M, et al. Asymptomatic and human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a 2-family cluster, Xuzhou, China. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 Jul [April 21, 2020]. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.200718

7 Tong Z, Tang A, Li K, Li P, Wang H, Yi J, et al. Potential Presymptomatic Transmission of SARS-CoV-2, Zhejiang Province, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020;26(5):1052-1054. https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2605.200198
8 Cai J, Sun W, Huang J, Gamber M, Wu J, He G. Indirect virus transmission in cluster of COVID-19 cases, Wenzhou, China, 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020 Jun [April 21, 2020]. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2606.200412

9 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html, accessed April 21, 2020.
10 CDC. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent- getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html, accessed April 21, 2020.
11 Branswell, H. Why ‘flattening the curve’ may be the world’s best bet to slow the coronavirus. STAT. March 11, 2020. https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/11/flattening-curve-coronavirus/, accessed April 21, 2020.
12 HHS. HHS Accelerates Clinical Trials, Prepares for Manufacturing of COVID-19 Vaccines. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/30/hhs-accelerates-clinical-trials-prepares-manufacturing-COVID-19-vaccines.html, accessed April 21, 2020.

13 Andrew, S., Froio, J. These are the states that require you to wear a face mask in public. CNN. April 20, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/20/us/states-that-require-masks-trnd/index.html, accessed April 21, 2020.
14 Transport Canada. New measures introduced for non-medical masks or face coverings in the Canadian transportation system. April 17, 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/transport-canada/news/2020/04/new-measures-introduced-for-non-medical-masks-or- face-coverings-in-the-canadian-transportation-system.html, accessed April 21, 2020.
15 CDC. Use of Cloth Face Coverings.
16 Brosseau, L., Berry Ann, R. N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks. NIOSH Science Blog. October 14, 2009. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2009/10/14/n95/, accessed April 21, 2020.
17 https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/air/managing-sick-travelers/commercial-aircraft/infection-control-cabin-crew.html, accessed April 21, 2020.

AFA calls for halt to all leisure travel, calls for volunteers to work in hospitals

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) today released the following statement on the Department of Transportation’s show cause order proposing parameters for initially implementing the authority granted to the Secretary of Transportation by Sections 4005 and 4114 of the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act). AFA President Sara Nelson said:

“We applaud the Department of Transportation for taking swift action to define continued essential service, which will help curb exposure and spread of the virus. We encourage the administration to take additional steps to cut redundant service that puts airline workers at unnecessary risk. DOT should have the full support of lawmakers and the entire administration to coordinate air travel with this as the objective and AFA will support those actions with comments and pressing for further legislative action.

“The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA supports government and airline efforts to focus on fighting the virus and limiting spread through aviation. To be clear, this is only applicable if the airlines take part in the CARES Act relief. This ties together the health crisis and financial crisis that we must confront at the same time.

“Our union has been working with officials to promote a government coordinated effort to maintain only essential service until our nation has flattened the curve of this virus.

“Our airlines – with flight attendants, pilots, and all of the people on the frontlines of aviation – have played a role in repatriating Americans who were overseas as this global emergency spread and our airlines have transported both medical professionals and supplies to communities to help fight the virus. Aviation’s First Responders have been on the frontlines of helping to deliver both people and supplies, as well as uniting families who are grieving or rushing to be with those who have fallen ill due to the virus or many of life’s tragedies. Some are traveling for medical treatment unrelated to the pandemic. Passenger aircraft carry the vast majority of mail and cargo. For all of these reasons air service is essential, although should be planned to limit contact and exposure such as designating certain flights as cargo only when applicable.

“To be clear, we have been and are currently calling for a halt to leisure travel and coordinated efforts to limit passenger flights to essential service only. We are resolute about this, but it is not an easy task and we support our airlines and our government in navigating this complicated but necessary planning.

“Our union is also calling for Flight Attendant volunteers to help our medical community. As flights are pulled down, it may be that aviation’s first responders have time to help. We are discussing with government and medical support services the critical need for extra hands – either through virtual on-line assistance or hands on at hospitals and medical centers. Flight Attendants who are willing to help may be in a unique position to do so, with our baseline immediate response training and skills among our membership that include credentialed medical professionals. Last night AFA posted a volunteer form for Flight Attendants to indicate their desire to volunteer.

“We must all work together to take actions that eradicate the threat of COVID-19. Aviation’s first responders will continue to do everything we can to support our country’s efforts to save lives and restart our economy.”

Air Traffic Controllers, Pilots, Flight Attendants detail serious safety concerns due to shutdown

On Day 33 of the government shutdown, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) President Joe DePete, and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) President Sara Nelson released the following statement:

“We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown. This is already the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States and there is no end in sight. In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented.

“Due to the shutdown, air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, air marshals, federal law enforcement officers, FBI agents, and many other critical workers have been working without pay for over a month. Staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system’s efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation’s busiest facilities. Due to the shutdown, the FAA has frozen hiring and shuttered its training academy, so there is no plan in effect to fill the FAA’s critical staffing need. Even if the FAA were hiring, it takes two to four years to become fully facility certified and achieve Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status. Almost 20% of CPCs are eligible to retire today. There are no options to keep these professionals at work without a paycheck when they can no longer afford to support their families. When they elect to retire, the National Airspace System (NAS) will be crippled.

“The situation is changing at a rapid pace. Major airports are already seeing security checkpoint closures, with many more potentially to follow. Safety inspectors and federal cyber security staff are not back on the job at pre-shutdown levels, and those not on furlough are working without pay. Last Saturday, TSA management announced that a growing number of officers cannot come to work due to the financial toll of the shutdown. In addition, we are not confident that system-wide analyses of safety reporting data, which is used to identify and implement corrective actions in order to reduce risks and prevent accidents is 100 percent operational due to reduced FAA resources.

“As union leaders, we find it unconscionable that aviation professionals are being asked to work without pay and in an air safety environment that is deteriorating by the day. To avoid disruption to our aviation system, we urge Congress and the White House to take all necessary steps to end this shutdown immediately. “

AFA issues a demand for an Ebola protection “checklist” for flight attendants

AFA Logo

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), the world’s largest Flight Attendant union representing nearly 60,000 Flight Attendants at 19 carriers, has notified Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain and key federal agencies overseeing aviation safety and health of protective and response measures needed to support aviation’s first responders and safe air travel.

AFA’s checklist includes responsible actions for managing and containing communicable diseases. By focusing efforts on prevention for all crewmembers, aircraft cleaning, and a collaborative response plan with airline management in the event of an Ebola exposure in-flight, AFA is leading efforts to minimize, contain, and eradicate the risk of Ebola from being further spread through civil aviation.

Here is the checklist demands:

Ebola and Other Communicable Disease Incident Response Checklists

AFA calls for the federal agencies overseeing aviation safety and health to require that all airlines comply with the following measures.

Prevention for All Crew Members

  •  Provide an adequate supply for every Flight Attendant on all flights of non- allergenic gloves and masks that are determined appropriate protection by the CDC and/or WHO.
  •  Provide an adequate supply of medical gloves and masks that are determined appropriate protection by the CDC and/or WHO for any volunteer medical personnel assisting with medical situations.
  •  Ensure each flight has one universal precaution kit for every Flight Attendant on duty plus two additional kits for intervening healthcare personnel. Universal precaution kits should include all items specified by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as follows:

    Universal precaution kit:
    — Dry powder that can convert small liquid spills into a sterile granulated gel — Germicidal disinfectant for surface cleaning
    — Skin wipes
    — Face/eye mask (separate or combined)
    — Gloves (disposable)
    — Protective apron

  •  Permit Flight Attendants working on flights to wear gloves anytime during the flight without any discriminatory or disciplinary actions being taken against them.
  •  Issue guidance to all crew in the event that a passenger exhibits signs or symptoms of infectious disease during a flight.
  •  Require pre-flight briefings to communicate the use of universal precaution procedures and equipment to prevent exposure on a flight and to review guidance in the event that a passenger exhibits signs or symptoms of infectious disease during a flight.
  •  Provide an adequate supply of masks and sick bags for any passengers who exhibit symptoms on a flight.
  •  Provide an airsick bag that is immediately available for each passenger.
  •  Ensure all aircraft meet the federal requirements for access to soap and running

    water.

  •  Provide on all flights equipment necessary to take temperatures of potentially

    infected persons without requiring physical contact with those individuals.

  •  It is a federal requirement to have running water, soap and clean towels on every

    flight – but if a flight is scheduled to leave in violation of this regulation then the airline should ensure Flight Attendant(s) has the ability to wash hands with running water and soap prior to departure of every flight and provision a sufficient quantity of sanitary alcohol-based wipes.

  •  Make all of the above stated supplies a no-go item (required for aircraft dispatch).

Aircraft Cleaning

Require airlines to follow CDC recommended guidelines for cleaning aircraft and any contaminated areas after a flight with a sick traveler who may have Ebola or other communicable diseases, including protection and training for the aircraft cleaners.

Crew Members on a Flight with Infected Passenger

  •  Immediately lock-down crew names, similar to an airline incident/accident.
  •  Immediately contact the union leadership with the names, cell phone numbers,

    current locations, and in-sheltering locations of impacted crewmembers.

  •  Coordinate with the crewmembers union leadership around any issues related to

    care and protection of the crew.

  •  Immediately remove crew with pay and benefits for the entire disease incubation

    period.

  •  Provide all resources necessary to safely in-shelter the crewmembers during the

    incubation period; for example, safe and secure location with meals and medical supplies provided, including, but not limited to, thermometers for self-monitoring and protective masks.

  •  Cover all medical costs related to potential exposure, including, but not limited to, tests, doctor visits, and medications.
  •  Once the in-sheltering period is over, provide transportation to the crewmember’s choice of base or home.
  •  Provide an external (non-airline employee) mental health professional who can make daily confidential telephonic wellness calls to the in-sheltering crewmember. Crewmembers may accept or decline calls at their own discretion.
  •  Within 8 hours of knowledge of the incident, the company and union will implement the communications plan.

    Management Plan Checklist

  •  Establish an unrestricted, transparent, and confidential on-going communication flow plan between the company, union(s), and managing public health authorities.
  •  The company and the union(s) will develop a joint communications plan, including message templates, to be used in the event of a communicable disease related incident aboard an aircraft.
  •  Establish a plan for in-sheltering of crewmembers following a communicable disease related incident aboard an aircraft.

AFA works to build a coalition to fight the U.S. operations of Norwegian Long Haul

AFA-Association of Flight Attendants logo

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) has issued this statement against Norwegian hiring U.S.-based Flight Attendants:

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) today met with a broad labor coalition and government representatives from Norway to discuss the detrimental effects Norwegian Air International’s attempt to bypass international labor laws will have on aviation workers around the world. AFA, part of a delegation comprised of union representatives, issued the following statement concerning current hiring practices by Norwegian Air International:

“Today we joined our aviation colleagues and industry leaders to discuss strategies and alternatives that would ensure Norwegian does not erode labor laws or the careers of U.S. Flight Attendants as they work to expand their business.

“History has shown that when companies find a way to take advantage of loopholes that assist in evading strong labor provisions, a global race to the bottom begins, leaving behind workers and communities. For nearly 70 years, AFA has been dedicated to protecting the Flight Attendant career, standing against any attempt to create a position that has little room for advancement and no job security. We are concerned that Norwegian’s announcement to hire U.S.-based Flight Attendants to staff international flights undercuts labor laws, paying outsourced workers a fraction of what Norwegian Flight Attendants earn.

“For decades, AFA has worked closely with our counterparts across the world for global labor standards that protect careers and enhance aviation growth. While we are dedicated to creating opportunities that expand business, it is imperative that airlines work collaboratively with unions and workers so that everyone is able to share in the success.

“AFA remains dedicated to our long-standing mission of uniting all Flight Attendants, regardless of carrier. We stand in unity with our counterparts at Norwegian in their fight to retain good jobs. Norwegian’s attempt to outsource Flight Attendant positions, not only bypasses Norway’s labor laws that protect workers, but it erodes careers of U.S. Flight Attendants who have worked for nearly seven decades to build an enduring career.

“In our global aviation environment, it is imperative that we all work together to ensure that workers are treated fairly and are recognized for the role they have in their airline’s success.”