Flight attendants voice concerns about risks to safety

MEDFORD, Ore.– Millions of Americans are under stay-at-home orders but that hasn’t stopped people from flying and risking the chance of spreading coronavirus. Along with the risk posed to passengers, flight attendants are also raising the alarm of the risk they face during this pandemic.

Flight attendants across the world are still working as airlines continue to scrape together what flights they can amid this global pandemic.

While airlines now allow some safety measures for flight attendants like masks and gloves, the risk is still there.

NBC5 News spoke with a local flight attendant who asked to remain anonymous to avoid any retaliation from the company they work for. Taylor, as they are referred, says flight attendants aren’t allowed to talk to reporters but with all the risks they face it was important to share what’s going on.

“We are a true front line employee,” said Taylor. “We are out there daily, 14 hours a day, on an airplane where sometimes the only hot water we have is in the lav.”

Taylor says they know several flight attendants have already contracted coronavirus. While airlines have taken steps to lessen the chance of exposure such as distancing passengers when space allows, Taylor says they’re using recycled air and staying in close proximity to everyone.

“They’re still having us doing somewhat of a service,” they said. “Still going out, they’re making contact, they’re talking to you, asking you what you would like to drink. I’m probably less than a foot from you.”

Airlines have asked employees to stay home if they show symptoms but Taylor is concerned about the ones that don’t show symptoms, those who are symptomatic. Not to mention the risk that passengers may bring.

“If you’re on an airplane with 80 other people and you have the virus you’re going to potentially spread it to 80 other people who are then going to come into contact with 100 other people,” said Taylor.

Flights have decreased significantly under the pressure of coronavirus and a lack of passengers wanting to fly since the beginning of March. Flightrader24.com, a global flight tracking company, tweeted photos of air travel over the U.S. from March 1 to the 26. It shows flights dropped from 6,800 to 2,800.

Taylor has seen the same within airports.

“It’s very rare you see individuals in the airport wandering,” said Taylor. “But you’re going to have I’d say 6 to 10 people minimum on a flight, which is 6 to 10 people you don’t know what type of contact they’ve had.”

The Association of Flight Attendants acknowledged the difficulty and safety risks for flight attendants in an email recently sent to its members. It said flight attendants are on the front lines and provide an essential service by “uniting families who are grieving or rushing to be with those who have fallen ill.”

However, the union said it was working to stop all leisure travel and limit passenger flights to only essential services. It also said it understood this was no easy task for airlines and the government to undertake in planning and resolving this issue.

Taylor, who’s a member, says the AFA has been important in helping increase safety for flight attendants but it’s hard to know who’s flying for leisure or for essential needs.

“Who knows if they’re traveling because it’s cheap to travel right now or if it’s really essential travel,” said Taylor. “I don’t know, we can’t question people as to why they’re traveling.”

Taylor wishes airlines could shut down for a couple of weeks so employees could receive payments. At this time, airlines are offering time off to employees for 30 to 90 days though it’s all unpaid.

Since many can’t miss a paycheck, Taylor says many keep working and she expects more flight attendants will start showing symptoms in the coming weeks.

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