In This Edition
- Health and Safety Concerns with Onboard Service
Health and Safety Concerns with Onboard Service
Master Executive Council (MEC)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is thought to spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The spread predominantly occurs between people who are in close contact with others (within about 6 feet). Guidance from the CDC also indicates that people who don’t live in the same household should maintain 6 feet of distance from one another and that a mask is not a substitute for social distancing. Though management has implemented a policy requiring the use of face coverings by passengers and employee onboard the aircraft, it is practically impossible for Flight Attendants to maintain physical distancing of 6 feet from other people in the aircraft cabin, especially while conducting onboard service.
On July 16, management rolled out a significant expansion of onboard service which involved the addition of several additional beverage choices, including the return of hot beverages including coffee and tea. This expansion was followed up by further additions on August 16 coupled with the return of ice on the beverage cart. The addition of so many components of onboard service seems counterintuitive during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Flight Attendants Are Unnecessarily Being Put At Risk
By requiring unnecessary interactions with passengers that are not related to safety of the flight, management continues to place Flight Attendants at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 by increasing required interactions with passengers and mandating additional time in the aisle to complete the increased service. Though management now allows Flight Attendants to bring and wear their own protective eyewear or face shields from home, this is not a substitute for the CDC recommendation to maintain physical distancing.
These concerns were resoundingly echoed by data collected from the AFA COVID-19 Onboard Service Survey. Over 1300 Flight Attendants responded to the survey, which was conducted between July 28 and August 2. Several key points from the survey include:
- Only 18% of those surveyed answered affirmatively* that they believe management considered the safety and health of Flight Attendants when adding beverages back to the onboard service
- Only 22% of those surveyed answered affirmatively* that they believe the number and type of beverages added back were appropriate given current concerns regarding COVID-19
- Over 65% of those surveyed indicate that they have experienced passengers removing their face covering multiple times per flight since the July 16 onboard service expansion
*An affirmative answer is indicated by a response of strongly agree or agree
Comments submitted by Flight Attendants as part of the survey list dozens of reports of passengers removing their face covering to interact with Flight Attendants despite onboard announcements directing passengers to keep their face coverings on. Further reports tell of Flight Attendants observing passengers keeping their face coverings off for extended periods of time as they wait for hot beverages to cool. The results of the survey, as well as a representative selection of comments submitted by Flight Attendants, were shared with management shortly after the survey closed.
Management’s Position: Passenger Satisfaction Matters More
Members of the AFA Air Safety, Health, & Security Committee (ASHSC), Inflight Service Committee, and the MEC have been continually engaging with management to address the risks to Flight Attendant safety and health presented by the expansion of onboard service. These conversations have involved every level of management within Alaska Airlines, and have included management from inflight, labor relations, safety, and marketing. AFA Representatives have repeatedly asked management to “stop the operation” and “own safety” by pulling back the expanded onboard service and returning to the pre-July 16 offering.
Management, however, has a different point of view. In several meetings between management and AFA, management has stated that they believe that there is no evidence to say that there is any incremental risk of transmission due to onboard service. Management has also gone on record to indicate that they believe that the worst credible outcome of a COVID-19 infection to Flight Attendants is “medical treatment beyond first aid”—not hospitalization or death. This position contradicts the fact that the CDC has recorded over 184,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the United States and leading national forecasts continue to predict thousands of new COVID-19 related hospitalizations per day.
Management’s overall response has been that they fully intend to continue offering the expanded onboard service despite AFA’s objections. Their reasoning: an increase in passenger satisfaction scores and a decrease in complaints related to onboard service offerings.
The MEC is equally frustrated and disappointed that management has made the conscious decision to prioritize passenger survey scores over Flight Attendant health and safety by refusing to reconsider the onboard service expansion that they have rolled out over the past several months. The failure to address the concerns related to the unnecessary additional risk for contracting COVID-19 that Flight Attendants are being exposed to speaks volumes to the fact that “Ready, Safe, Go” is only a priority when it is convenient and suits the needs of management. Despite this, the MEC and other AFA representatives will continue our efforts to advocate for onboard service levels that do not put Flight Attendants unnecessarily at risk.
Continue to Document and Report Safety Hazards
Regardless of management’s position, please continue to report any safety hazards that you experience while performing the expanded onboard service. This could include instances of increased exposure to passengers (e.g. passenger removing their mask to speak to you, etc.) or other hazards related to service. You can report these hazards through ReportIt! by submitting either a FAIR and/or ASAP for each flight on which they occur. Include the terms “COVID-19″ and “service” in your narrative to ensure they are correctly categorized by management. This data will help our AFA representatives to advocate for safe levels of service.