American Airlines Flight Attendants Risk Discipline For Wearing Protective Face Masks

American Airlines won’t allow flight attendants to wear masks. They also still give ‘points’ which count towards discipline and termination for a flight attendant who calls out sick unless they’ve actually tested positive for coronavirus.

Flight attendants with mild symptoms who haven’t flown internationally still report being ineligible for testing. And calling out sick when you aren’t is a firing offense.

A voicemail is making the rounds from this past Tuesday when a flight service manager called out a flight attendant for wearing a mask on a trip, and suggested they just ‘use sick time’. I’m not embedding audio to avoid identifying the manager.

This is [redacted] calling from Boston flight service at 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. ..I know you’ve got a trip this evening, I know it was brought to my attention that you did have a face mask on on your last trip. I just wanted to let you know that we can’t let you come to work with a face mask on. I understand concerns and everything but we can’t be having our flight attendants come to work with a face mask on. Like I said I totally understand what your concerns are. If you don’t feel comfortable coming to work without a face mask, you need to use your sick time or call out that’s totally understandable. I just wanted to let you know prior to coming in this evening as far as what the expectations are on our end.

Flight attendants walk past passengers, and provide assistance to passengers. I’ve written about flights catered without gloves earlier this month.

I reached out to American to ask if there was any relaxation of the airline’s uniform and appearance standards to allow flight attendants to better protect themselves. According to an American spokesperson,

Masks in-flight or in the terminal is not allowed. We are following CDC guidance: masks are not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 for the general public.

I can see the argument for “masks should be reserved only for health care workers,” although flight attendants cannot possibly social distance at work (and neither can airport agents) even with current low load factors. Flight attendants may be at higher risk of exposure than nurses. Masks do two things.

  1. A flight attendant who has mild symptoms, or is pre-symptomatic, may spread the virus. A mask is a protection for passengers and other crewmembers.

  2. While air isn’t the virus’ primary method of transmission, it can be inhaled, and N95 masks to prevent most particles from entering a person’s mouth.

To be sure there are challenges wearing a mask. It has to be the right size. It should be changed with regularity. And you need to not touch your face with it on.

Notably, masks have been a key part of suppressing spread of COVID-19 in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Alitalia began requiring that passengers wear masks as a condition of flying, in case the passenger was infected. It’s absurd not to allow employees coming into contact with passengers not to wear them at this point, even if the primary beneficiary is the passengers around them in case the crewmember is pre-symptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I flew domestically this past Wednesday. Out of the 90 pax on the flight, fewer than 5 were wearing masks. It would have been very disconcerting had the flight attendants been in masks. There is zero scientific evidence that such masks are necessary. Fear is not a good reason to wear one. It seems like her manager played this situation EXACTLY right: compassion and common sense. If we somehow have a wave of flight attendants getting the virus, things will obviously change — most likely, there will be no more domestic flights.

  2. @chopsticks “There is zero scientific evidence that such masks are necessary.” The word ‘necessary’ is doing a lot of the work here. You clearly don’t use ‘beneficial’ for a reason, because properly worn there can be some benefit to the wearer. However this is substantial benefit to other people if the person wearing the mask has the virus. It’s part of standard protocol in some of the places where the best containment of the virus is occurring.

  3. Given we do not hear such horror stories re DL and UA, at what point do the passengers vote with their feet and say “enough is enough”?

    I for one stopped loyally flying AA after September, 2018, due to the thoroughly abominable management by Parker, e.g., crappy FC meals, ridiculous new Y seats, etc-all indicative of a poisonous corporate culture.

    At some point, Parker and his failed management will create serious health-and life-issues for crew and passengers alike. Do we really need to wait for that to happen?

  4. We really should look at how well Asian countries that require masks in public are doing in this epidemic vs Italy or the other western countries that don’t. We know from China that a large number of transmission occurred from asymptomatic hosts and it doesn’t make any sense to prevent someone from wearing a mask. Even if it’s not beneficial, is there harm? This reminded me of Cathay Pacific prohibiting mask wearing in Jan until the the situation became out of control.

  5. All crew on Japan airlines wore face masks on their flights in February and it did hinder their excellent service. Notices were posted at all check in positions that the inflight crew would be wearing them.

    I’m sure permitting or requiring inflight crew members to wear mask neither hinders nor improves inflight service.

  6. You are spreading dangerous misinformation when you claim that the virus “does not remain in the air.” Hopefully people won’t take your comments at face value despite the attempt to sound authoritative.

    It is quite well established that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours.

    It is irresponsible to place your readers at risk with this misinformation or “alternative facts” as your president would say and to represent yourself as an expert.

    If you have scientific credentials I am not aware of and have studied the matter and believe me wrong, please accept my apologies. In the meantime, I have an MD/PhD and am a researcher at the Max Planck Institut.

  7. On Friday I had a physical and no one had masks or gloves on for most of it. Most people can’t get the necessary safety equipment.

  8. Basing the policy on claims from the CDC after it’s been admitted the CDC was intentionally lying in that claim isn’t oof management.

  9. It’s time to hit reset on these terrible airlines.
    Let them go bankrupt and let newer, better airlines take their place.

  10. I suspect that in a few weeks the US will follow Europe in the view of the masks. I know from my family in Europe that first, people laughed and ridiculed people wearing them because “everybody knows that masks don’t work” as they dutifully repeated the official message from the politicians. Now, masks are required anytime they leave their home and people face fines if they don’t. As somebody who works on the development of inhalation aerosol drug delivery systems, the idea that even simple surgical masks do not at least attenuate the viral load to which the wearer is exposed is ridiculous. Although, clearly the main benefit is for others around the mask wearer. I know of at least one study that suggested surgical masks may decrease viral exposure of the wearer to influenza by up to 55 fold, depending on the surgical mask type.

  11. @Max. Even though you “have an MD/PhD and am a researcher at the Max Planck Institute”, you are political to the bone. Maybe you should pick up some extra money being an expert on CNN.

  12. I flew JAL last month from Singapore to Tokyo. Out of the ~120 passengers and crew on the plane there were exactly 3 of us without masks. Definitely a correlation between mask wearing and the size of the outbreak, no matter what the CDC is saying.

    Personally, I’d be horrified by a flight attendant not wearing a mask or gloves at this point- I would not take service. But then I’ve cancelled all my flights for March and April, so maybe I am not in their target audience anymore.

  13. Masks are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

    The CDC has given this muddled messaging because our nation is severely underprepared and under-resourced (“they won’t work for you, but they will work for the healthcare workers that desperately need them;” take a moment to consider the logical inconsistency of this statement). Even for hospitals, critical shortages of masks may be imminent.

    Testing remains in critically short supply in the United States as well. Anyone sick in this environment should:
    -Ideally not be working at all
    -If this is not possible for the unfortunate reasons outlined in Gary’s post, a mask should certainly be worn

    Remarkable idiocy on AAs part.

  14. Screw what the CDC or other people think or say, wear a mask for yourself and for others. 99% of the people in China and HK are wearing them. On my recent ANA flight everyone, including flt attendants, was wearing mask.

  15. OK, someone explains to me why the public is told that masks do not protect them but hospital workers are in danger if they don’t have masks!

  16. @ Gary — Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is yet a single USA flight attendant who has contracted coronavirus. Considering how many tourists have gotten coronavirus by, say, just passing through Europe this month, I find that statistic extraordinary. It would strongly suggest that, despite the panic, masks are not necessary for flying on a USA commercial aircraft right now. Panic isn’t fact.

  17. @ Gary — Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is yet a single USA flight attendant who has contracted coronavirus. Considering how many tourists have gotten coronavirus by, say, just passing through Europe this month, I find that statistic extraordinary. It would strongly suggest that, despite the panic, masks are not necessary for flying on a USA commercial aircraft right now. Panic isn’t fact.

  18. Because the US doesn’t have enough masks and they’re trying to conserve stocks. Once we ramp up manufacturing (or importing, likely from China), this will severely confuse the message when we start asking everyone to wear a mask in public.

    The WHO has been doing several of their public facing meeting with surgical masks on (even though they’re relatively well spaced out at the table and it’s likely not strictly necessary in that situation) to help communicate this message.

  19. @chopsticks
    That might be a relevant statistic if the US were anywhere near close to meeting the demand for COVID testing.

    In my state, inpatients are waiting up to 7 days for COVID PCR results.

  20. From China (arguably now the most experienced country for virus management despite the deplorable start):

    “[Given improving conditions in China,] the China National Health Commission released a statement yesterday updating guidelines as to when it is appropriate to wear a mask in public. Before reminding readers that wearing a mask can help prevent respiratory infections, the new guidelines recommend that masks no longer need to be worn in well-ventilated outdoor spaces with few people and while at home.

    You should continue to wear the equivalent of a disposable mask or up in areas deemed to be of medium- to low-risk such as at work, taking an elevator, when out shopping or eating at a restaurant, or on public transportation. The same goes for if you’re within a one-meter distance of someone; you don’t want to risk wayward spittle ruining your day.

    Meanwhile, in high-risk areas like crowded hospitals, railway or subway stations, airports, supermarkets, and restaurants, you’re recommended to wear a medical or single-use mask (while workers should wear protective masks that comply with N95 standards or above). The same goes for those who are exhibiting symptoms like coughing or sneezing.”

    So masks are still recommended for all.

  21. @chopsticks …. numbers you see are confirmed tested cases only. So there may be flt attendents infected but not known yet. There are already confirmed cases of flt attendents (and pilots) in other airlines (Korean Air, Japan Airlines). And airline personnel have lives outside of the airplane…. you dont know if they might pick it up outside of work and then bring inside the cabin.

    Stay safe, wear a mask.

  22. @chopsticks Several colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19, not just in inflight, but in several other divisions. Haven’t heard about it on the news yet? Well, I guess HIPAA is working then.

  23. Why do “@chopsticks” and “@other just saying” spout the same garbage?

    If a mask helps protect health care workers why wouldn’t it help protect anyone?

    If there’s a chance, any chance that someone wearing a mask might protect you why would you not cheer that person?

  24. @Als. Did I say anything about not wearing a mask? No. I think masks are a good idea.

    I mocked Max for saying ‘alternative facts” as your president would say’, which proves his lefty credentials.

  25. Masks are not effective unless you are sick. They give a false sense of security. One of my best friends is am infectious disease physician and before my trip to Europe (from where I evacuated five days ago) told me, after I asked h point blank about using one, they’re totally useless. This does not include PROPERLY FITTED AND PROPERLY WORN TOP GRADE SURGICAL MASKS. But nobody outside of the medical field has access to these or knows how to use them. So don’t fool yourselves!

  26. @other just saying. I said you spouted garbage the same as @chopsticks.

    And in rereading your comments and @chopsticks you both spout garbage.

    Here, I’ll show you: “mocked” (as you proudly state)=garbage.

  27. Re: Chopsticks. I always find his comments interesting. On my recent trip to Thailand, all Korean Air employees were wearing masks on the way there and all Japan Air employees were wearing masks on the way back. (a) I was not sure how effective they were, since were all breathing the same air. (b) The masks were not N95 grade. (c) All of us on the plane and lounges had open skin which could have easily lead to virus transmission. (c) Nobody on the plane was utilizing social distancing. (d) some Korean and Japanese stewardesses have been found to have been infected. (e) The bathrooms were pretty clean, but seriously, I doubt they had been sterilized. (f) I sat in chairs that were not sterilized.

    Als asked: “If a mask helps protect health care workers why wouldn’t it help protect anyone?” Well, that is the problem, isn’t it. Even health care workers that wear gloves and a mask are not protected and are coming down with the virus. To prevent that risk, health care workers need hazmat suits. So maybe Chopsticks is not so stupid after all.

    While I think a mask couldn’t hurt, it is not clear to me the thin masks I acquired in Thailand, similar masks worn by the airplane status, were substantial enough to reduce transmission materially or not. I bought some N95 one since returning to New York at an inflated price. But they do not make me feel protected either.

  28. @chopsticks “There is zero scientific evidence that such masks are necessary.” The word ‘necessary’ is doing a lot of the work here. You clearly don’t use ‘beneficial’ for a reason, because properly worn there can be some benefit to the wearer. However this is substantial benefit to other people if the person wearing the mask has the virus. It’s part of standard protocol in some of the places where the best containment of the virus is occurring

    Stop with your diarrhea of the mouthh. Our gov. Says make are useless unless you are sick. Please stop your crap. Care about us. F your blog. Times like these people come together. You?

  29. @Jurgen, this simply isn’t true. Although they’re essentially impossible to source now, in normal times “real” surgical/procedure masks (good for droplets, not good for truly aerosolized particles) are readily available online.

    These masks are essentially a one size fits all adults product unlike the much more closely fitted N95 masks (N95s have much higher resistance to air-flow requiring a tighter fit).

    Like condoms, mask usage is helpful even if imperfect, although users should seek to minimize contact with the actual mask material especially while removing the mask (use loops instead, sanitize hands after removing the mask). The nose piece should be formed and the mask snugly fitted when donning the mask to minimize air flow around the side of the mask.

    Pretending that this is rocket science is a disservice to public health.

  30. I respectfully disagree. As you said, the N95 masks are better, the N95S another step up. Few “normal” people are able to get a hold of these, and proper fitting seems to be an impossibility. As a result, people fiddle with useless masks, touch their faces, and still believe they are safe. If masks were so efficient at filtering out all the ad stuff, how could anybody in mask-wearing Asian countries ever have gotten sick? How?

  31. @Jurgen
    What a silly question. Reduction of risk is not elimination of risk. This is the intellectual equivalent of pointing to someone that got hurt in a car with seatbelts and saying, “see, seatbelts don’t do anything!”

    In addition to good hand hygiene, widespread testing, and effective tracking of contacts from known cases, it’s all part of a large number of steps that can help reduce the infection rate. Wearing a mask isn’t a license to do stupid things like put your face next to someone that’s coughing.

    N95 masks are better, but they also are much more difficult to tolerate for extended wear due to their increased resistance to airflow.

    Newest data and recommendations from the CDC suggests that re: COVID-19, N95 is only that necessary when there’s truly aerosolized secretions such as intubation. In public, a surgical/procedure mask will be roughly as protective.

  32. I have worn masks for years on planes, as my late wife was a breast cancer patient, and if I came home sick it could delay her chemo treatments. The one I have now is military grade, with N99 filtration. On a trip from CAE-DFW-AUS on Sunday 6 days ago, I counted only a handful of masks on board either flight, and during my 2h30m layover, only 4 other travelers in DFW wearing them.

    What amazes me is how many grown adults DO NOT cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing (mainly speaking about behavior prior to the COVID-19 outbreak).

    My argument is, if masks are “useless” against catching diseases, why do all healthcare professionals wear them when around sick patients??

    There is so much ‘spin’ and hyperbole floating around, it makes me crazy.

  33. 100% agree with Eric. Its about trying to tilt probabilities in your favor eve so slightly vs total elimination. If you want to venture out without a mask during the Trump pandemic — well, go ahead and play the odds.

  34. @jurgen ” As you said, the N95 masks are better, the N95S another step up.”

    What’s the “S”? “Sport model”? Sounds like car models. 🙂

  35. Of course @otherjustsaying the OG anti American coward will keep protecting Fuhrer Trump. Even though it’s only Trumps lackeys who use the term “alternative facts” as they can’t admit to lying.
    Coward Trump and the product of his groping @otherjustsaying must stand together.

  36. Nice posts, Eric- you said it much better than I could!

    I’d also note that having been wearing a mask in public, it definitely cuts down on the amount I touch my face, so there’s that as well…

  37. I am a flight attendant and despite the flights operating with severely low loads, we are still working in a metal tube where people still cough and sneeze . Despite the cabin air quality ( supposedly ) being safe and compliant by FAA standard, the air is recirculated in the cabin .( Don’t ask me to explain how it works…) . As a flight attendant and for some on this site stating that we should not wear masks or don’t need them is absolutely insane and uneducated . As others have stated here , the other professionals required to work in close contact with many people do have masks ( when available ) with gloves . ” Ignorance is Bliss ” to those here as they really don’t have a clue what it’s like to work around the public in extremely close quarters.

  38. @Other Just Saying instead of CNN, probably prefers more legitimate “news sites” like OAN and 4Chan, where they are more likely to support his previous statement on this own site that (this is 100% true) “Patrick Mahomes is a white quarterback”. No need to pay attention to his garbage.


    My wife’s an FA for them and she’s allowed

    Gary – get a life you blowhard loser ..

  40. @UA-NYC (AKA Manhattan Waterbug). OAN and 4Chan: before you mentioned them, I had never heard of those sites, but you seem so knowledgeable about them. Sounds like you are an avid reader since you bring them up all the time.

    The large American cockroach in Manhattan is commonly referred to as a Waterbug by New Yorkers. It can be a terrifying experience to see a large roach walking across your kitchen floor or crawling out of a cupboard when you open the door. But at the end of the day, lets face it, large roaches are just an innocent bugs trying to live their lives according to instincts.

    However, UA-NYC (AKA the Manhattan Waterbug) and his ilk are morally worse sorts of creatures. He is rooting against American and for the coronavirus, because he is hoping it will impact the next election for his side. Disgusting.

  41. @Joe – American says she’s not, and the flight service manager is on tape scolding a flight attendant for it, I think you’re the one spreading fake news…

  42. 747always the Anti-American Socialist WIMP is still around. The funny thing is, before he started attacking me on an ad hominem basis, I just guessed that he was an anti-American Socialist. Every post since (when he is not attacking me) has been anti-American and/or Socialist. Bravo for me, great guess. How he got to be a WIMP? I do not know. Did he get bullied in high school? Was he a Mama’s boy. Well, whatever, I am not a psychologist. But 747always, as a good Samaritan, I suggest you get professional help for your WIMPY lack of self confidence.

  43. I say flight crew should do what they think is right to protect themselves and the public. Any employee who is disciplined for calling out sick, wearing a mask etc. will almost certainly have the discipline overturned in the grievance and arbitration process.

  44. @OJS you troll – you know what another name is for $1,000 cash payments to citizens (now heartily endorsed by the Cheeto apparently) is called? Socialism. Medicare/Medicaid? Socialism too. Social Security? Also Socialism. And I’m pretty sure you’re a north-of-60 low-information senior citizen, so you are probably enjoying the fruits of all this Socialism.

    Go back into your Alt Right hole already.

  45. The DAMN CHINESE who spread this ARE THE ONLY ONES WEARING MASKS..and you are ordering CHINESE TAKE OUT? Flight attendents absolutely SHOULD be wearing masks for both themselves and PAX. NOBODY SHOULD BE FLYING UNLESS EMERGENCY. Why are people FILLING FIRST CLASS when the rest of the plane is empty? Stupid. GREEDY ENTITLED.

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