The union representing United Airlines flight attendants has admonished them not to “cede authority” onboard to anti-maskers and that non-confrontation is not an option.
Flight Attendants Urged Never To “Cede Authority Onboard” By Ignoring Passengers Who Refuse To Wear Mask
United Airlines has largely been out of the news this year concerning mask compliance in part because it has taken a different approach than other airlines in enforcement. Its three-step policy for handling passengers who refuse to wear masks prioritizes deescalation and ultimately results in the passenger being ignored rather than the flight diverting.
A recent diversion on a Houston to Honolulu flight over what began as a mask issue likely does not signify a change in policy, as the passenger onboard also refused to remain in his seat and became aggressive with flight attendants in the galley.
But the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents more than 25,000 flight attendants at United, has told flight attendants they need to step it up in enforcing the mask ordinance.
A memo first links masks to seatbelts and also laments that masks have become such a political issue:
Unfortunately, mask compliance has become a politically polarized issue and not everyone sees these requests as a matter of safety. As a result, a simple request to a passenger to wear their mask properly can become contentious in the blink of an eye. As Flight Attendants, we understand what is expected of us. We know that asking a passenger to wear a mask is the same type of safety and regulatory request as asking them to fasten their seatbelt. And, we know, passengers are expected to comply with requests of the crew.
Recognizing that masks are political is an important first step: there is simply no avoiding that. I do find it interesting that masks are put on the same level as seatbelt, when the type of mask you wear makes all the difference in the world. Most cloth masks are the equivalent of wearing a seatbelt but not fastening it…pointless and ineffective.
It continues to puzzle me that flight attendants have not insisted that surgical masks be mandated if the number one concern is safety.
The memo next tells flight attendants they must enforce the mask ordiance, not leave it to their colleagues:
Let’s remember that as a crew we work together and support each other. All crew members on a flight must step up, as we do every day, to enforce our safety regulations in a collaborative way and keep people safe and to support each other in our work. t’s never only one Flight Attendant’s job to remind people about mask compliance. We are all in this together and each one of us needs to do our part.
While it is not an option to decide that you are not going to enforce mask compliance; all Flight Attendants are responsible for mask compliance and it’s also very easy to understand the reticence to broach the subject. We all ask ourselves, is the confrontation worth it? What are the implications of my efforts to use reason to ask someone to comply with federal law? More importantly, will I be supported by management if I make this request?
Those rhetorical questions are important – flight attendants must carefully balance the enforcement of the federal mandate (note, it’s a mandate, not a law – there is a difference) with the imperative to avoid another David Dao incident (one reason United no longer provisions duct tape onboard).
In my own travels on United, I’ve certainly noted varying degrees of mask enforcement and reminding flight attendants not to dump that enforcement role on one colleague is quite reasonable.
Memo: If You Don’t Enforce Masks, You Are Put Of The Problem
In particularly harsh language, the memo tells flight attendants that if they are not vigorously enforcing the mask mandate, they are part of the problem:
We do all need to be clear with each other. It’s about an honest conversation. If you do not address non-compliance on the airplane when you see it, you are not fulfilling your role as a safety professional. And, as difficult as it may be to accept, when we don’t, we are becoming a part of the problem. We simply cannot cede our authority onboard the aircraft, ever. And, we must continue to demand through our daily actions and our commitment to safety that management support our efforts.
“Ceding authority onboard” may sound like a stereotypical flight attendant overstatement of their purpose onboard, but it is a valid point – if flight attendants do not enforce mask rules, passengers onboard (reasonably) would be less inclined to follow other rules.
Ultimately, the union urges solidarity:
By standing together on this issue, by requiring compliance and never ceding our authority on the aircraft, we become collectively and individually more capable of meeting not only the mask compliance issues, but the vast challenges we face daily in our current work environment.
Only time will tell, however, if this memo will push more flight attendants on United to actively patrol for mask compliance.
Flight attendants at United Airlines have been warned not to cede their authority onboard to anti-maskers who refuse to comply. The devil is in the details, however, as flight attendants have also been told by management not to escalate conflict onboard. With masks serving as a hot-button dividing line in the current culture wars, the “damned if you, damned if you don’t” approach leaves flight attendants with two unappealing options.
(H/T: Paddle Your Own Kanoo // image: United)