The President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has told Congress it is critical that “food and beverage services continue to be held to absolute minimums” and that lowering masks to eat or drink places flight attendants in grave danger.
Flight Attendants Want “Absolute Minimum” Service Onboard…For Their “Protection”
Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, Sara Nelson made four points concerning onboard food and beverages:
- Flight attendants are at higher risk than health care workers when they serve food
- Thus, onboard food and beverage service should be kept to “absolute minimums”
- Passengers must abide by a “dip and sip” policy of removing masks for only a few seconds at a time
- Alcohol sales should be suspended and only cold food should be offered on flights less than three hours until “the public health emergency is fully behind us”
Here are her remarks on food and beverage in full:
A 2020 study of COVID-19 infection by occupation in Norway found that flight attendants and their counterparts working on ships reported nearly five times the risk of COVID-19 during the second wave of infection last summer and fall, as compared to the general working population in Norway, when matched by age and gender. The only jobs that posed a higher risk of COVID-19 during that time involved serving food and beverages. Even health care workers were at lower risk. The data is clear: repeated exposure to unmasked individuals increases the risk of transmission. For this reason, to protect passengers and flight crews, it is critical that food and beverage services continue to be held to absolute minimums.
Study after study confirms that wearing a mask is the single best protection against spreading and receiving COVID-19. Modeling data and population studies both show a strong effect, but only when masks are worn properly and consistently. As Americans, we are told to wear a mask in the grocery store and the doctor’s office, and if we were to remove our mask to eat a sandwich or sip a beverage in those environments, we’d be escorted off the premises. Flight attendants work in one of the most densely-occupied spaces in the world with windows that don’t open, doors that aren’t available most of the time, and limited ventilation.
Until the public health emergency is fully behind us, TSA and FAA must continue to send a consistent message about masking up to prevent onboard disease transmission, including mandatory, regular announcements for passengers to not remove their mask until the flight attendants have passed their row and, even then, to only “dip” their mask down momentarily to take a bite or sip (“dip and sip”). AFA recommends that airlines only serve cold food and drinks on flights less than 1,800 miles or three hours, that drinks are only distributed in individual cans/bottles, and that onboard alcohol sales are suspended until the pandemic is over.
Do Flight Attendants Have A Point?
As consumer demand returns and customers again have a choice, airlines will need to again compete on product. Part of that product is food and beverages onboard.
The idea that flight attendants are exposed to more risk than first responders may be supported by certain cherry-picked statistics, but this charge is highly problematic for airlines that have spent millions telling consumers that HEPA filters and air circulation create an extremely safe environment.
Nelson says “bare minimum” food and beverage is necessary “until the public health emergency is fully behind us.” I’ve got news for you: that will never happen. In all likelihood, we can expect booster shots each year like our annual flu shots.
The “just a little bit longer” card has become incredibly trite. Somehow all the finer airlines of the world manage to serve a full hot meal service with real glasses and silverware. Restoring comfort to air travel need not come at the expense of public health in any meaningful way.
After picking taxpayer pockets to remain employed when millions of other lost their jobs, now flight attendants do not want to work – at least according to the union president who represents several major U.S. airlines. Here’s a thought: if you don’t want to work, no one is forcing you to stay…