Flight attendants union wants mandatory mask usage, suspension of leisure travel

Apr 24, 2020

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Everyone boarding a plane should be required to wear a mask to help protect both passengers and crews from the coronavirus, the world’s largest flight attendant union said this week.

In a letter to the secretaries of both the U.S. Transportation and Health and Human Services departments, the Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson called for protective face masks to become required gear for flight crews and passengers alike.

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“Since flight attendant ability to practice social distancing is challenging in the aircraft cabin and on most other forms of public transportation, it is essential that we wear masks as often as possible so long as COVID-19 remains a threat to public health,” she said in the April 23 letter.

Nelson also recommended that the federal government put a temporary ban on leisure travel until the coronavirus pandemic is under control, underscoring the increasing scrutiny being placed on protecting the safety of those flying.

Related: Delta CEO raises prospect of ‘immunity passports’ for air travel.

“Airlines are continuing to deliver people, mail, and cargo, uniting families that are grieving or rushing to be with those who have fallen ill, and transporting others who require medical treatment unrelated to the pandemic. These are some of the many essential services provided by aviation to all of our communities — large and small — that must be maintained as the pandemic continues,” she wrote. “We believe that protecting this essential service and ensuring air travel is not aiding in spread of the virus requires a halt to all leisure travel until the pandemic is brought under control according to health authorities.”

Nelson’s request comes as the ongoing health crisis continues to wreak havoc on the airline industry.

Related: By one metric, Southwest is the world’s largest airline (for now).

Already, at least one carrier, United Airlines — perhaps not coincidentally where Nelson works — has adopted a mandatory mask policy for its crews. Other airlines around the world have adopted policies to give passengers and crews as much physical space onboard as possible.

But, even amid a historic downturn in travel demand, the occasional story about a crowded flight with few health-safety measures enacted continues to surface. Such scenes — like one on an American Airlines flight first reported by the New York Post earlier this week or another in Australia on Qantas last week — may become more common as states and countries move at different paces to ease social distancing restrictions.

Read more: Coronavirus may be making weather forecasts less accurate — and may even change the weather itself.

Nelson cautioned that until the virus is under control, airplanes are going to be a major vector for infection if stringent public health measures aren’t put in place around flights.

“While this global system is integral to our modern economy, its essential inter-connectedness also provides a convenient pathway for opportunistic pathogens to hitch rides on unsuspecting crewmembers and travelers and spread all over the world.”

Featured photo by Chandan Hkanna / AFP via Getty Images.

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