In the new world of COVID-19, are flight attendants onboard only for safety and security?
A comment in a story I wrote earlier today, has left me scratching my head.
Lisa, who presumably is a flight attendant, commented on a story I wrote about labor tensions that have flared up at American Airlines. She wrote:
“I just read the new safety/service alert regarding service… I propose – ALL SERVICE is suspended on every flight. Flight Attendants are required to wear protective gear. One lavatory is locked off for crew. Meal credit expenses paid for EVERY layover. FLIGHT ATTENDANTS ARE ONBOARD FOR SAFETY AND SECURITY ONLY! WATER BOTTLES PROVIDED. TRASH BAGS AVAILABLE FOR SELF DISPOSAL. BRING YOUR OWN FOOD ( yes, even long haul) If restaurants are closed and social distancing is mandated- Flight Attendants are being placed in the most vulnerable position to contract and spread this virus. It is IRRESPONSIBLE to continue service onboard. Let us be an industry leader by taking drastic measures and SUSPEND ALL SERVICE. Protect your flight crews and the traveling public. Thank you, Lisa”
My first reaction was to roll my eyes. The all-caps and the demand for flight attendants to essentially do nothing seems to fit the sort of minimum-effort mentality that U.S. flight attendants (unfairly, I might add) are often accused of.
Fundamentally, I agree with the mantra on United that, “While safety is our priority, service is our passion.” Flight attendants must and should provide great service. Most of the the time, most flight attendants do. The forward-facing role of a flight attendant is about so much more than safety, even if that is the most important factor.
But this is a special time, indeed one that I am struggling to adjust to.
During this time, should flight attendants only be onboard for safety and security? Essentially, keep them seated and have them intervene or interact with passengers only in the case of an emergency? That way, distances are kept and the transmission of virus is lessened. The sooner we get COVID-19 under the control, the sooner we can return to normalcy, or at least our new definition of normalcy.
But if the role of a flight attendant becomes simply sitting and waiting for an emergency, should they be paid as much? And isn’t this a dangerous mentality that seeks to redefine a flight attendant role in a way that may “stick” once things return to normal?
In the days ahead, I predict we will see airlines move to pre-packaged meals and disposable cups and utensils in all classes. That itself requires much less work than carefully plating and arranging a meal. And that’s still quite different than totally ignoring passengers onboard to the extent they have their own trash bags.
Anyway, I’m curious what you think about this. Is it time for flight attendants to avoid all contact with passengers onboard?