On Sunday, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson, expressed her anger for the lack of protective masks on a packed passenger plane.
“Enough! This was TODAY on a four hour flight. This is not okay. Masks must be mandated by DOT/HHS in airports and on airplanes. Essential travel only, with proper PPE. #COVID19 #StopTheSpread,” Nelson wrote on her Twitter account, with a picture of a crowded plane where many passengers are not wearing face masks.
Nelson has advocated for airlines to require passengers to wear protective face masks, throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“This comes on the heels of Sara and the AFA sending a letter this past Thursday to DOT Secretary [Elaine] Chao and HHS Secretary [Alex] Azar asking them to mandate that masks be worn on all planes and in all airports,” the AFA-CWA, which represents flight attendants from 20 different airlines, wrote in an email to Newsweek.
“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, employee and passengers; require personal protective equipment; and end all leisure travel until the virus is contained,” Nelson wrote in her letter.
“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.”
Throughout her letter, Nelson details the daily workday for a flight attendant and the different challenges they face in protecting themselves from the novel coronavirus. According to Nelson, the “typical routine,” for a flight attendant includes travel from home to work and vice versa, “often on public transportation.” Nelson also talks about how the flight attendants must go through check-in areas and security checkpoints, before boarding the plane.
“On the airplane and at all of these public places, flight attendants come into repeated contact with the general and traveling public,” Nelson adds in her letter.
“Additionally, the letter calls for employers to be required to provide workers clean, properly provisioned handwashing stations with soap and running water and 605 or better alcohol-based rubs/gels or wipes, and disposable gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) as specified by the CDC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other relevant federal agencies,” the AFA-CWA wrote in the email to Newsweek.
Following the letter by Nelson, United Airlines took a proactive approach and became “the first major U.S. carrier to require that all flight attendants wear a face covering or mask to help protect themselves and customers on board.”
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, strict traveling restrictions in the U.S. and other countries has caused airlines to suffer financially. According to Airlines for America, the percentage of seats sold on U.S. airlines has decreased from 80.2 percent in January to 13.1 percent during the week from April 13 to April 19.