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A Flight Attendant's Plea To All U.S. Airlines Still Operating Domestic Flights

Photo: Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash
A Flight Attendant's Plea To All U.S. Airlines Still Operating Domestic Flights


As of the moment my fingers are on these keys, that’s the number of people in the U.S. known to be infected with Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In total, 262 people in the U.S. infected with this novel coronavirus have died.

Federal and state governments have urged, and in some cases (currently including California, Florida, Illinois, and New York) mandated, self-isolation, quarantines, and lockdowns.

Though borders are closing and nonessential travel has been highly discouraged, rock-bottom airfare to domestic locations has made travel appealing to those who otherwise either wouldn’t be able to afford flights and those who have yet to understand the severity of this illness.

The only way we have a chance of slowing down this virus before it reaches the severity seen in China, Italy, and Spain is by making it impossible to spread. So why are we still flying?

Why are you, airline executives, subjecting your own employees — including pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, TSA agents, air traffic controllers, ramp personnel, and others (or more accurately, over 300,000 citizens of the United States) — plus our families, our guests and their families, and anyone we come into contact with in general, to continuing exposing to this virus?

This is no longer a financial issue — it’s a moral one.

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On March 19, Italy’s coronavirus death toll reached 3,405 humans, which is officially more than China’s where the outbreak originated.

Just yesterday, 5,322 new cases were reported across the nation, as well as 427 deaths.

427 people died. In one country. In one day, from this one virus.

The difference in the rate of deaths between the two countries comes down to their responses.

China placed a lockdown on citizens of Wuhan on January 23, when cases of the virus were still relatively low. While cases of COVID-19 in that location, where the virus originated from, skyrocketed, the rest of China saw a fraction of coronavirus cases.

We've criticized China for its response. But three months after the start of the outbreak, China finally reached a day with no new local infections reported.

Meanwhile, Italy waited until March 10 to enact a nationwide lockdown after cases neared 10,000 and the number of deaths hit 463 total — now they are seeing that many deaths per day.

But I’m not in China, and I’m not in Italy. I’m here, in the United States, where we are making the same mistakes Italy did and pretending we won’t have the same outcome.

As an active flight attendant, I’m perpetuating the issue. And as an airline, so are you.

On March 11, I received an email from my company detailing all the ways they were planning to keep things safe throughout this pandemic.

The precautions were the usual extra sanitization efforts most companies like retail and hospitality (who have since closed their doors in the wake of the pandemic) take regularly anyway.

“We are all one TEAM and each and every one of us has a vested interest in getting through this latest challenge safely,” the email read, telling flight attendants specifically, “if you exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, call out sick and get the necessary medical treatment to get healthy again.”

This guidance is not particularly helpful, as researchers have found that mild cases of COVID-19, including cases that don’t show symptoms, accounted for a major number of cases in China.

"The explosion of COVID-19 cases in China was largely driven by individuals with mild, limited, or no symptoms who went undetected," study co-author Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health said in a statement. "Undetected cases can expose a far greater portion of the population to [the] virus than would otherwise occur ... These 'stealth transmissions' will continue to present a major challenge to the containment of this outbreak going forward.”

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We've all probably seen the footage of spring breakers partying in large groups despite the rampant spread of the virus.

I have personally seen full flights shuttling guests (and possible carriers of the virus) from place to place.

Just yesterday a woman on my flight was coughing non-stop without even covering her mouth.

It's as though nothing has changed for those of us working in aviation.

We are still called to gather in groups for training sessions, to sit at the airport, and to conduct flights as usual.

The inflight team (a group of managers in charge of the flight attendants) at my airline has a habit of patronizing us by thanking us for our work while simultaneously taking advantage of us. We accept it for the love of the job. But this is crossing a line.

Continuing to run domestic flights and work under business-as-usual conditions not only puts us in danger, it also places every single person we cross paths with in danger.

And flight attendants with families and children are in an especially difficult predicament as more and more schools close and kids stay home, even as their parents are expected to go to work. In this industry, that can mean being away for days at a time.

If we are, at heart, “one TEAM” and if the company has as much of a “vested interest in getting through this latest challenge safely” as they say, flights would stop running. we would be allowed to stay home to protect our health, and people would not just be discouraged from traveling and spreading this virus — they would be unable to.

Airports are already falling apart as flights cancel and passengers, flight attendants, and pilots get stranded as TSA agents and air traffic controllers test positive for COVID-19. Money is being wasted on fuel for flights meant for 200 passengers that end up carrying as few as 12.

It’s only a matter of time before airports have to shut down anyway — why put more people at risk in the meantime?

As reported by CNN, Chinese Red Cross vice president Sun Shuopeng, who has been helping Italy deal with the pandemic, said in a news conference, “We need every citizen to be involved in the fight of COVID-19 and follow this policy,” advising the Italian people “to stop all economic activities and cut the mobility of people.”

I understand these are unprecedented times and no one, including our own state and federal governments, knows exactly what to do. But we do have the advantage of seeing other countries deal with the pandemic, allowing us to learn their ensuing successes and failures.

Our federal government may not be taking a strong enough stand, but we can.

I won’t pretend to know the economics of the aviation industry, but I do know that human lives are far more important.

And when it comes to buying stock and choosing which airlines to fly in the future, people will remember which airlines took a stand for their employees and for the public’s health and which airlines chose to put money first.

As a country, we will recover from this.

The question is: would we rather do it sooner or later?

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