The FAA has finalized a long-awaited rule that extends the required rest period between shifts for flight attendant to 10 hours.
The move comes nearly a year after the FAA proposed the final rule last October and nearly four years after an October 2018 congressional mandate that the minimum rest period be extended to 10 hours from the current minimum of nine hours. Flight attendant shifts can still last up to 14 hours.
Tuesday's action met with immediate praise from flight attendant unions, which have lobbied for the change for decades.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA , the largest U.S. flight attendant union, and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines flight attendants, thanked the Biden administration and accused the FAA of dawdling on the rest-period extension during the Trump administration years despite the congressional mandate.
"It's about time! As aviation's first responders and last line of defense, it is critical that we are well rested and ready to perform our duties," AFA president Sara Nelson said. "Covid has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short nights, and combative conditions on planes."
Some union contracts already call for 10-hour rest periods, according to comments that the unions submitted to the public record as the regulation was being considered. Among those are contracts at Frontier and the regional carrier PSA.
Alaska JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines also all schedule at or over 10 hours minimum rest, the unions said, though absent a federal mandate those rest periods can be reduced at a company's discretion.
Extending the required flight attendant rest period to 10 hours could be costly for carriers.
In a public comment filing in 2019, the trade group Airlines for America said the extension will cost U.S. airlines more than $1 billion over 10 years.
Unions have said that estimate is highly exaggerated.
The new FAA rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.