After a year of working under health and safety concerns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the stress of dealing with the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the lives of many flight attendants. For people in the airline industry and especially those who are the airlines’ face while at 30,000 feet, money worries and disconnection from family and friends have led to increased stress levels.
On top of these worries, flight attendants are in direct contact with hundreds of people each day. While restrictions and testing requirements have been tightened, flight attendants could contact a person who has the virus but displays no symptoms. Since COVID-19 raised its ugly head early last year, data compiled by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) shows that 3,500 flight attendants have tested positive, and 18 have died.
The AFA is worried about its members’ health
The AFA represents almost 50,000 flight attendants across 17 airlines and is extremely worried about its members’ health and working conditions. In an interview carried by travel industry media outlet Skift, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), said,
“We’re seeing a dramatic increase on mental health issues, and that ranges from a lot of issues people are concerned about. Their health or their family’s health or actually dealing with very difficult things … having lost someone or having someone in the hospital. And then you layer on top of that the real insecurity about whether or not we’re even going to have a job.
“And what has been very difficult is that in the beginning, you could track flight attendants getting exposed to Covid at work. And also, it was very clear when a flight attendant had passed. A year later, community spread makes it virtually impossible to tell whether or not someone has contracted this at work.”
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Another situation that has been compounded by the virus is where these workers live. Many flight attendants stay in shared accommodation near the airport, often sleeping in bunk beds that different crew members use on a rotational basis. Now with COVID-19, many of these crash pads have had to close. This is a huge blow and especially so to many younger flight attendants who don’t make a lot of money.
Regarding flight crews being exposed to the virus, Nelson said that one of the problems is that airlines might not be notified about a possible expose until sometimes ten days after it happened. The union boss believes that the airlines could be doing more than just following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. While the AFA continues working with airlines to limit the amount of exposure flight attendants have with passengers, Nelson is pleased that the service portion of flights has been limited to cut out interaction.
Vaccinations for essential workers
To help protect her union members, Nelson has been championing the idea of flight attendants being prioritized to receive the vaccine as they are regarded as being frontline essential workers. During a congressional hearing earlier in the month, Nelson proposed that the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies develop a vaccination program for essential workers.
“Flight attendants, in particular, have contact with a large number of people every day, typically crossing state lines, putting them at increased risk of infection,” Nelson said. “To facilitate an efficient vaccination rollout for this highly mobile workforce, the federal government should set up vaccination clinics at major airports to make it easy for airline crew members to access both their first and second doses, without disrupting their travel schedules.”
Regardless of whether you are a flight attendant or not, millions of people have been impacted emotionally and financially by the medical emergency. COVID-19 vaccines are now starting to be rolled out worldwide and will hopefully bring an end to this nightmare that has impacted so many people.
Do you think that airlines could do more to help protect their flight attendants? If so, please tell us your suggestions in the comments.