Association of Flight Attendants union president Sara Nelson, who has grown into one of the most powerful voices in aviation over the last year, told the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration that all non-essential flights should end immediately to help stem the growth of the deadly coronavirus.
Nelson, head of the largest flight attendants union in the country, spoke on a conference call set up by the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions.
More than 100 flight attendants have tested positive for COVID-19, several are in intensive care and nearly 1,000 sick and self-quarantined. One died late last month.
“We are calling for a halt to all leisure travel,” Nelson said on the call. “We’re calling on a coordinated government response, we’re calling on all our airlines, and we’re also calling for leadership from DOT and FAA on advising the public that we do not need any leisure travel right now.”
The demand for travel has dropped dramatically, and the airlines, in turn, have cut service – in some cases up to 90 percent. But as part of the stimulus package signed into law by President Trump last month, airlines must maintain a minimum of service and keep flying.
That has resulted in some customers taking advantage of rock-bottom current prices – which included $32 round-trip cross-country tickets between Miami and Los Angeles on American Airlines into May – to either travel to vacation destinations where they are more than willing to self-quarantine for 14 days or to pad their frequent flier miles.
“We do not need to have any leisure travel at this time,” Nelson said. “In air travel, it’s impossible to social distance, and so crews need the flights that don’t need to be taking off to stay on the ground.”
NBC Bay Area, the television affiliate of NBC-Universal based in San Francisco, did a piece quoting several flight attendants from several different airlines who agreed with their union leader.
“What I would love to see is that nonessential flights are grounded. You know, we have a lot of planes going out there that have one passenger or sometimes even none. And it begs the question of why are we flying?” said one 20 year flight attendant veteran, who was not identified by the station.
Indeed, American Airlines just admitted that it flew nine flights out of New York City this past weekend that had just one passenger on each of the nine planes.
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