Should the airlines stop flying during the coronavirus pandemic? America’s flight attendants think so. In recent days, scenes of packed airplanes with passengers not wearing masks have made the news. And while major carriers are allowing passengers to do some seat switching to help with social distancing, they are not requiring passengers to wear masks or stay six feet away from each other.
The risky situation has prompted a strong reaction from the union of flight attendants, which is calling on the Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, to “end all leisure travel until the virus is contained”—the words of Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), who penned an open letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Health Secretary Alex Azar.
Nelson’s letter points out that flight attendants have been hard hit by the virus. “At airlines employing AFA member flight attendants, at least 250 have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and flight attendants have died as a result of the virus too,” writes Nelson.
Nelson’s impassioned letter also says that flight attendants are questioning if they are “helping to spread the virus.”
In addition to calling for an end to leisure air travel, the letter makes other requests, including requiring masks in airports and on planes—for passengers, crew and employees. Nelson also indicates that the U.S. should be following the lead of Canada, which is taking much stronger precautions than this country. “Canada encourages the use of masks on all modes of public transport and requires all air travelers to wear masks that ‘cover their mouth and nose … at screening checkpoints, … when they cannot physically distance from others, or as directed by the airline employees,’ writes Nelson.