Unions are calling on the DOT to comply with a congressional
mandate that it increase the minimum amount of rest airlines must give flight
attendants between scheduled shifts, to 10 hours from the current eight.
"Flight attendants are safety professionals who take
care of hundreds of thousands of passengers daily," Lori Bassani, national
president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which
represents American Airlines flight attendants, wrote in an April 25 letter to
acting FAA administrator Dan Elwell. "They deserve to be prepared for long
duty days, and travelers deserve flight attendants who are at their best should
the worst occur."
Bassani penned her letter nearly six months after the
deadline set by Congress in October's FAA reauthorization act for the DOT to
write the longer minimum rest time into federal statute. President Donald Trump
signed the 2018 reauthorization bill on Oct. 5, after it overwhelmingly passed
the House and the Senate. It called for the change to be written into the
federal code no more than 30 days after that.
Implementation of the longer rest-time requirement would put
flight attendants on a par with pilots, whose minimum rest time was increased
to 10 hours as part of a rule-making process the FAA completed in 2011.
Airlines were then given two years to adjust pilot staffing and scheduling to
the longer minimum. A germination period would also likely be afforded airlines
should the DOT comply with the mandate related to flight attendant rest time.
The DOT did not respond to emails asking for an explanation
for the delay.
Under current regulations, airlines can require a flight
attendant to work a 14-hour shift, then return to work for another 14-hour
shift after an eight-hour period. Per the rule, the rest time begins as soon as
the flight attendant disembarks from the last flight of a shift, and it doesn't
end until the attendant boards the first aircraft of the next shift, said Sara
Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents
nearly 50,000 U.S. flight attendants at 20 mainline and regional airlines.
On the Record
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA president Sara Nelson talked about
issues of interest to flight attendants that are sure to impact
passengers. Read More
Unions have negotiated longer minimums at several airlines,
Nelson said, but only United, Alaska and Hawaiian already have minimum flight
attendant rest times as long as 10 hours. Alaska, she said, has the longest
minimum, at 11 hours. United's 10-hour minimum includes an exception in the
case of irregular operations.
In an interview, Nelson said that Congress' inclusion of the
extended rest-time minimum in the FAA bill last year followed a three-year public
campaign by the union. Congress also required each airline to submit a fatigue
risk-management plan to the FAA within 90 days of the bill's passage, which
will be either accepted or rejected by the FAA by next October.
Flight attendants, Nelson explained, are charged with
evacuating airplanes during emergencies, handling in-flight medical emergencies
and responding to security issues. On a daily basis, she added, they
"When we're fatigued, we're less able to do that, we
respond slower, and it also has an impact on our health," Nelson said.
She blamed the DOT's delayed action to increase the
rest-time minimum, in part, on the Trump administration's policy that two
regulations be eliminated for every one that is added. In addition, she said
that the DOT explicitly opposed the minimum rest-time extension ahead of its
passage by Congress.
In a letter last May to then-Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who
at the time was the top Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee, DOT
deputy general counsel James Owens listed "inflexible rest periods for
flight attendants" among the examples of what he called "unnecessary
Nelson, of the flight attendants union, also contends that Delta, the only major U.S.
airline that does not have unionized flight attendants, has been a primary
driver in pushing the DOT and FAA to move so slowly on implementation. Delta,
she said, has been arguing that it would have to hire 2,000 flight attendants
to comply with the longer rest-time minimum.
"We know this because we talk with people all over
Washington, whether it's on the Hill or in agencies or in industry, who have
all given us information that this is the line that Delta is putting out,"
Nelson said. "We know that they are the main driver, but we know that the
rest of the industry is very happy to have them drive this."
Delta flatly disputes that assertion.
"Delta is not lobbying against implementation of the
new rule," spokeswoman Ashton Kang wrote in an email last week. "We're
preparing now for the change by hiring flight attendants and making adjustments
to our scheduling technology so that we can be prepared to support it once it's