Flight attendants' union chafes at loosened quarantine guidelines

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Association of Flight Attendant-CWA president Sara Nelson said it's "less than reassuring" that new guidelines align with policies pushed recently by corporate America.
Association of Flight Attendant-CWA president Sara Nelson said it's "less than reassuring" that new guidelines align with policies pushed recently by corporate America. Source: AFA-CWA

The largest U.S. flight attendants union has raised alarm about the CDC's new Covid-19 quarantine guidelines. 

Under the new guidelines, individuals who test positive for the virus are to quarantine for just five days rather than 10. After that, if they are asymptomatic, the CDC recommends they wear a mask for five more days.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said it's "less than reassuring" that the new guidelines align with policies pushed recently by corporate America.

"If any business pressures a worker to return to work before they feel better, we will make clear it is an unsafe work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any 'staffing shortages,'" Nelson said in a prepared statement. 

In changing the guidelines, the CDC said the move is motivated by science that has demonstrated that the majority of Covid-19 transmission occurs within one or two days prior to the onset of symptoms and within two to three days after symptoms begin. 

White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci noted the importance of making sure workplaces can be fully staffed as the omicron variant causes the newest wave of U.S. Covid cases. 

Notably, the guideline change came as U.S. airlines suffered their fourth consecutive day of of unusually high cancellations and their second consecutive with more than 1,000 cancellations. The cancellations have been caused in part by winter weather, but airlines have also cited omicron-related pilot call-outs as a primary cause. 

In the days leading up to the guideline change, airlines and the trade group Airlines for America had advocated for the CDC to reduce the recommended quarantine period to five days. 

On Monday evening, Delta said it is working to implement the new guidance. 

"The updated guidance allows more flexibility for Delta to schedule crews and employees to support a busy holiday travel season and a sustained return to travel by customers," the carrier said. 

Some airline workers' unions aren't expressing the same level of concern as the AFA. 

"We're going to let the scientists make the call, and they have. There it stands," said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots. "We want to make sure it is done with great thoroughness and caution, and we want to keep this recovery rolling."

The Air Line Pilots Association, meanwhile, declined to comment on the new guidelines. 

Still, Tajer did note that the CDC guideline calling for mask wearing on days six through 10 after testing positive for Covid-19 conflicts with an FAA policy that allows pilots not to wear a mask in the cockpit if they feel that doing so will impact their ability to safely fly. 

"We've approached management and said, 'How do you reconcile this?'" Tajer said. 

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