The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a final ruling that mandates an increase in flight attendants’ rest between shifts.
Attendants are now required to rest for a minimum of ten consecutive hours between work shifts. This applies to attendants on domestic, flag, and supplemental flights who are scheduled to work for up to fourteen hours.
The move places attendants at parity with commercial airline pilots, a move the Association of Flights Attendants-CWA welcomes.
Importantly, the new regulation removes a previous provision that allowed a reduction in an attendant’s rest periods under mitigating circumstances. The same provision does not exist in the contracts of commercial pilots.
Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants, described the rest rule as a “safety loophole we had to close.” The association represents 50,000 workers at 17 airlines.
Speaking at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the acting FAA Administrator, Billy Nolan, spoke supportively of the move, emphasizing the importance of attendants to flight safety. “I’m a pilot, and as any pilot can tell you, we cannot fly the plane without the safety expertise and support of flight attendants”. “Flight attendants are trained to take action during emergencies, to administer first aid, conduct evacuations, manage medical emergencies.”
Airlines for America, a trade group representing carriers including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, welcomed the change. The group noted “having rested and alert flight attendants” is critical to safety and that its members supported any scientifically supported measures to prevent dangerous fatigue.
Leading carrier such as United Airlines, Delta, and Southwest had previously agreed to give a ten-hour rest break but officials noted the importance of making such rest mandatory and universal.
The FAA estimates airlines will need to hire an addition 565 flight attendants at an annual cost of $117 million because of the increased rest. However, the FAA emphasized the primacy of passenger and crew safety in supporting the move.
This regulatory change has been long in the making, with Congress mandating greater rest periods in the 2018 FAA re-authorization. However, the change has been delayed due to, amongst other things, the global pandemic.
In a statement, the Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said; “Flight attendants, like all essentially transportation workers, work hard every day to keep the travelling public safe, and we owe them our full support, this new rule will make it easier for flight attendants to do their jobs, which in turn will keep all of us safe in the air.”
Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP