Flight attendant union calls for suspension of leisure travel amid coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a major decrease in air travel, and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) wants Americans to fly as little as possible amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We believe that… ensuring air travel is not aiding in the spread of the virus requires a halt to all leisure travel until the pandemic is brought under control according to health authorities,” AFA President Sara Nelson stated in an open letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Health Secretary Alex Azar.

Travelers in face masks ait for a shuttle bus outside the main terminal after arriving at Denver International Airport Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The letter also laid out several requests, including a mandate for masks in airports and on planes.

”For air travelers, we recommend that the federal government provide all airports sufficient numbers of disposable cloth or paper masks that are more effective than homemade masks at limiting viral spread,” the letter stated. “These should be provided free to all members of the public entering airport buildings with the stipulation that they be worn at all times on airport property and on airplanes, and only removed momentarily when necessary for identity verification or food and drink.”

Nelson told Yahoo Finance that the AFA has been in open communication with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since the outbreak began, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

“What we’re saying here is that the DOT and HHS can do two things,” Nelson explained. “One, right away, they can provide leadership and messaging to the public that encourages the public to stay at home, to not be traveling. CDC could put out those guidelines right now and in fact has in other ways, with these other guidelines around community meetings and all of that. But it needs to be explicit to aviation.”

The U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

‘There needs to be messaging’

Nelson said that federal authorities can “take definitive steps essentially to suspend leisure travel. We acknowledge that we need to work with lawmakers to get antitrust immunity so that DOT would be free to coordinate with the airlines to pull down all unnecessary flights.”

Although the leisure travel suspension wouldn’t be legally enforceable, Nelson argued that federal guidance would go a long way to mitigating the spread of coronavirus and noted that more than 250 members of the AFA have tested positive for COVID-19. 

“There needs to be messaging that’s relatively easy to do compared with putting in place new regulations,” Nelson said. “And the government has a whole process for doing that. But providing leadership and good guidance and good messaging and encouraging the industry to provide that same sort of advice to travelers, it’s a little bit like when you are a new parent and you’re looking to go take a trip. You can go on to DOT’s website and see what they recommend in traveling with your children.”

The U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

A halt on leisure travel would mean significantly less flights, but flight attendants would still paid at least through September because of provisions in the CARES Act.

The bill allocates $25 billion for passenger air carriers, $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and $3 billion for contractors. Those funds must be used to pay employee wages, salaries, and benefits. The amount that each carrier receives specifically is based on the amount they paid employees from April 1 to September 30, 2019, that was reported to the Department of Transportation. 

“It’s a rescue package for workers,” Nelson said at the time, “for flight attendants, gate agents, pilots, mechanics, caterers, airport maintenance and janitorial staff, and everyone who keeps our aviation system moving. It ensures our aviation system can operate as needed during the crisis, especially to continue moving critical personnel, aid workers, supplies, and other essential business.”

Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.


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