The AFA Air, Safety, Health and Security Committee (ASHSC) has brought forward a member’s safety concerns regarding the interior aft assist handles at the L1 and R1 exit doors on the reconfigured Alaska (“Aura”) Airbus 319, 320 and 321. AFA is also reviewing the placement of seats with relation to the L2 and R2 mid-cabin exits and the potential for those seats to interfere with the expeditious activation of the exits and to impede egress in an emergency evacuation. To keep this communication shorter, we will focus on the L1 and R1 aft assist handles but be assured that AFA is working both issues.
What are the concerns?
The reconfigured Aura bulkheads that are immediately aft of L1 and R1 (separating 1AC from the forward jumpseats on aircraft left and 1DF and the forward galley on aircraft right) have been relocated farther forward than the bulkheads on Legacy Virgin America (“Red”) aircraft.
Why is this a concern?
The bulkheads are now very close to the aft assist handles, effectively rendering the handles unusable.
This is significant because many if not most Flight Attendants cannot maintain a grip on the forward assist handle while simultaneously pulling the inflation handle at the exit. In such circumstances, Flight Attendants have been trained to ‘monkey’ over to the aft assist handle in order to maintain a protected position while pulling the inflation handle. The Flight Attendant is then supposed to ‘monkey’ back over to the forward assist handle prior to commanding abled bodied persons (ABPs) to initiate the evacuation. If a Flight Attendant cannot use the aft assist handle, it is more likely the FA will be pushed out of the aircraft while pulling the inflation handle. This situation unnecessarily increases the likelihood and potential severity of Flight Attendant injury during an emergency evacuation.
What is being done?
Once management was alerted to the issues by AFA, it has been very responsive. On Wednesday, March 6, management and AFA conducted a joint site visit to an Aura A320 during the aircraft’s turn time in Seattle in order to better understand AFA’s concerns. Management posted the following alert on the Inflight webpage later that evening:
AFA has brought forward concerns to Inflight management that the new Aura retrofit interior on A320 and A321 aircraft have a narrow space between the bulkhead wall and the aft assist handle at the L1/R1 exits.
Although the Aura retrofit interior is FAA approved, we are currently working with Maintenance & Engineering and the vendor who installed the interior to determine improved functionality. In the next several days, management will be holding cross-divisional meetings to explore alternate options.
We want you to be safe. Our advice is if you cannot use the aft assist handle, secure yourself by any means necessary to ensure you are protected. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.
Management conducted a follow-up safety risk management (SRM) assessment on the issues earlier today (March 8, 2019). In the SRM meeting, management pledged to actively explore long-term solutions to the concerns. More meetings are scheduled next week.
Besides AFA bringing the issue to management’s attention over the past week, the Master Executive Council (MEC) filed two contractual grievances yesterday:
- Grievance 36-99-2-40-19 Violation of Section 25.B Failure to Provide a Safe and Healthy Workplace alleges that management failed to provide a safe and healthy workplace when it installed new bulkheads on the retrofitted Airbus (“Aura”) aircraft that effectively renders the aft assist handles near doors L1/R1 as unusable and unnecessarily increases the likelihood and potential severity of Flight Attendant injury during an emergency evacuation.
- Grievance 36-99-2-41-19 Violation of Section 25.D.2 Failing to Notify MEC President and ASHSC of Reconfiguration or Re-design Prior to Final Decision alleges that management failed to notify the MEC President of a decision to reconfigure or re-design the interior of the Airbus aircraft and to discuss with the ASHSC the parties’ interests and concerns for inflight safety prior to making a final decision on the reconfiguration/re-design.
AFA ASHSC representatives participated in the SRM meeting earlier today, and AFA will continue to actively interface with management on these issues until long-term solutions to our concerns have been implemented.
In the meantime, AFA recommends that Flight Attendants submit a confidential Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) report in order to document their safety concerns. These confidential reports are tracked and actioned upon by the FAA, the Company and AFA.
Be assured your safety is of paramount importance to us and stay tuned for further developments!
Your MEC – Jeffrey Peterson, Brian Palmer, Linda Christou, Lisa Pinkston, Terry Taylor, Mario de’Medici, Melissa Osborne, Tim Green and Brice McGee; MEC Grievance Committee Chairperson Stephanie Adams; MEC Air Safety Health and Security (ASHSC) Committee Chairperson Seth Heiple and ASHSC Vice Chairperson-Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) Brad Young