Congress Voted To Give Flight Attendants a Better, Safer Life. It Hasn't Happened.

Congress Voted To Give Flight Attendants a Better, Safer Life. It Hasn't Happened.

Flight Attendants say safety is being jeopardized. And now, protests are being organized.

Source: Inc.
Author: Chris Matyszczyk (Twitter: @ChrisMatyszczyk)
Date: May 4, 2019

After more than 20 years, you'd think there'd be leaping for joy.

For so many of those years, Flight Attendants had been wondering whether their 8-hour rest periods between duty days were enough.

After all, if you still have to get to a hotel after a long day and then wake at the crack of dawn to get back to the airport and be on your next flight, you're not going to get eight hours' sleep, are you?

Seven fatigue studies ultimately declared in 2015 that the correct and safe amount of resting time should be 10 hours.

Finally, as my colleague Bill Murphy Jr. reported, last September at 2.52 a.m on a Saturday morning, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Bill. 

Within it was a mandate to the airlines to institute the new, scientifically suggested rest period.

It hasn't yet happened. 

First, the Department of Transportation didn't update the regulation, in which there were dozens of other safety initiatives embedded.

Then came the Government Shutdown and the Boeing 737 MAX grounding.

Yet many Flight Attendants are wondering whether one or more airlines are stalling on the hard-fought stipulation.

Because, oh, it can't be money behind this, can it?

Please forgive me, that was my own dry fear.

Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO and in her spare time a United Airlines Flight Attendant, told me her members -- Flight Attendants at 20 airlines in all, including United, Alaska and Spirit -- are intensely frustrated.

She also intimates dark forces may be at play. She told me:

We have learned through multiple conversations with industry, regulators, and other sources all over Washington, Delta Air Lines has been pushing the the Department of Transportation and the FAA to slow down implementation.

Nelson told me she's heard Delta is telling the regulators it needs to hire 2,000 more Flight Attendants in order to comply. This could take two years.

Why would Delta want to hold back such an apparently sensible, science-based, safety-orientedf regulation?

A Delta spokesman denied the airline was doing any such thing. He told me:

We're preparing now by hiring flight attendants and making adjustments to our scheduling technology, so that we can support the change once it's implemented.

The airline refutes any suggestion that it would be against the new regulation at all.

Whispers from several thousand feet, however, suggest Delta doesn't necessarily view the new regulations with untrammeled joy.

Nelson is a touch skeptical too. She told me: 

If you had a union on the property, you'd know scheduling systems can be a bear to update, but not simply changing a modifier like this.

Delta is alone in its Flight Attendants being non-unionized. Some, though, might find it odd that the airline wouldn't be a touch more gung-ho.

If you're renowned for your customer service, held in high esteem by all your rivals, wouldn't you want to be in the vanguard of such employee-friendly and safety-minded rules?

Safety is, after all, very much in passengers' minds currently, after two awful crashes involving the MAX 8. In one survey, more than half of Americans now say they don't want to fly it.

And when there is a safety issue or even an emergency, it's Flight Attendants who are most often at the forefront.

I asked the Federal Aviation Administration to explain what's going on. A spokeswoman told me: 

We're in the process of initiating rulemaking on the Flight Attendant duty and rest rules. The change directed by Congress requires that we go through the traditional rulemaking process to revise the rules.

There's a tantalizing kink to all this. As the FAA spokeswoman told me: 

Air carriers can adopt the new rest requirements on their own.

So American, Southwest and the rest can simply say Yup, Here We Go and it will be perfectly legal.

Why don't they? 

An American Airlines spokesperson told me: 

The FAA has not issued its final rule yet detailing the rest requirements. We are in compliance with the current FAA regulations.

But the FAA has said you can go ahead. It told me. It's OK.

Southwest offered a similar line to that of Delta: 

Southwest is working to develop technology requirements to support the scheduling requirements of the new rest rule while also working with our Flight Attendants' union to review the implications to our collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, we are coordinating with the FAA to incorporate agency guidance and conform to the specific elements prescribed by the Reauthorization Act of 2018 as we develop and enhance our policies and procedures.  

Then again, Nelson told me such procedures should have taken six months at the most.

Are you ready for a touch more irony?

United already has the 10-hour rule, negotiated as part of a 2016 agreement. Yet the airline still doesn't appear to be pushing for the dozens of other associated safety-minded regulations to speed through. 

It all seems quite curious.

It could be that some of these airlines are being sincere, given the many trials they've undergone this year.

Oh, but this couldn't be about money, could it?

If you have to give Flight Attendants more rest, you might have to pay more Flight Attendants. That would hurt. 

Given the decades-long gestation period, you'd think airlines might have created contingency plans for the day.

Perhaps they never thought it would happen. Or perhaps they always hoped it wouldn't happen.

Nelson told me her union will be organizing protests with a view to speeding up airlines' thinking: 

We launched a petition on to call on DOT and FAA to immediately implement the law, and to encourage members of Congress to hold them accountable. We will ramp up additional actions in the coming weeks and months to hold airlines and regulators responsible for complying with the law.

She explained that May 5 will represent six months since the regulation should have been updated.

Will Flight Attendants have to wait another six months? Or will it be more?

And will passengers be looking at them, wondering if they've had enough rest?

If I'm on a morning flight, I do.

But then at least I can sleep.

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