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. @747Always – How long does the COVID-19 virus live on tobacco products such as cigars? Asking for a friend!

  2. Was airborne for 24 hours last Sunday night on Singapore Airlines from New Zealand to Copenhagen all flight attendants wore masks.

    It signals that they take it seriously and also protects them from the risk of infection from the inevitable coughs and sneezes from 300 people stuffed in a metal tube.

    Both on Singapore and our flight a week earlier on Qatar there was careful attention to food handling etc.

    Flight attendants need to protect themselves, and also reduce their risk of being superspreaders.

  3. @UA-NYC (the Manhattan Waterbug). I have said this before. You are a piece of work. You are running around insulting (ie trolling) Trump and Trump voters, if you get pushback, you call them a Troll.

    (1) The bailout bill working its way through Congress, supported by the whole governing political class, Democrat or Republican, is a massive fiscal stimulus and not socialism. It is like you have zero knowledge of Keynesian economics or the history of every President doing stimulus. Can anyone be so unformed to have never heard of a stimulus? Personally, I am against massive stimulus programs. I think they do more harm than good. But to call it socialism is idiotic.

    (2) Socialism is the government owning or controlling the means or production. As such, the social security program and medicare/medicaid are not socialism. Seriously, you sound like you consider yourself an intellectual, but try to read a book about these things for once in your life. WTH, maybe a beginning economics textbook might be a good start.

    (3) I am still contributing massive amounts to Social Security, not receiving money from it. It is suppose to be an insurance program. I will never even remotely get the money I have sent to it back, even if I live to be 100 years old. However, the social security fund does not exist. It has been 100% raided by the Federal Government, both parties, long before Trump was elected. So now it is 100% supported by same year taxes or borrowings. But, I am guessing you are too dumb to figure out why I say that. Nothing I can say, will fix stupid.

    (4) If the government is sending out $1,000 checks, I want my piece, since I am sending much more money to the federal and state government 24/7 in the form of taxes. But lets face it, $1,000 is a drop in the bucket in New York. I might use it to buy wine, go on one or two dates. But since it is being means tested, I suspect I will get nothing, as usual.

  4. A mask will not help you from getting it. Masks need to be with the hospital professional and EMT on the front lines, not in the air. The mis-information on social media is appalling and the opinionating by the so called news originations is worse (CBS might be the most level-head and accurate of the bunch right now).

    LISTEN TO THE CDC and NIH, stop the panic and take care of your self. A year supply of toilet paper and hamburger won’t help. REPORT FACTS NOT CRAP!

  5. I am a flight attendant at AA and have NOT been told I may not wear a mask, and I have colleagues who do. Perhaps this “rule” is being ignored by some bases. I am at the largest AA base. We are encouraged to do what we feel is necessary to protect ourselves.

  6. Mask do help keep you from getting it N95 mask. If you happen to have your own WEAR IT. They say it won’t help because there was is a huge SHORTAGE and they needed them for medical personal.

  7. If masks don’t help flight attendants, how do they help hospital professionals and EMTs?

  8. @Other Just Saying Wow well stated there. These days everything is either socialism or a conspiracy.We live in challenging times.

  9. If you have ANY common sense, you will understand how a mask can be preventative for both flight attendant AND passengers. We should ALL be donning masks, people!

  10. American Airlines currently giving employees until March 23rd to request “voluntary leave” (without pay). If taken, all paid vacation days are going to be paid toward the end of next year, 2021. Airlines have already gone begging billions in handouts from the federal government, while they won’t even let their employees minimize risks of spreading a deadly virus. Parents are currently at home without pay worrying how to feed their kids, pay for school (themselves and/or their kids). If voluntary leave isn’t requested, American Airlines will start layoffs immediately. Many employees are reconsidering there future with this airline.

  11. ‘Flight attendants walk past passengers, and provide assistance to passengers.’

    Surprised you didn’t call them stewardesses.

  12. Even Doctors and nurses dont use up masks with asymptomatic patients. They are in low supply primarily from this kind of misuse. Screen your passengers and save all masks for front line health care workers. This is We time. Not me time

  13. First off. What is your damage with American? Jesus. You get a boner off any possible negative news you can post. Get a hobby. Secondly. This entire click bait bullshit post is INCORRECT AND FALSE. As an employee of AA, each section you mentioned is not true. I really wish you would move on to some other company to be a total bitch about. It’s tiresome and old.

  14. @OVER IT – “As an employee of AA, each section you mentioned is not true.”

    The message from a flight services manager I quoted is on tape.

    The airline confirmed the policy.

    And has since overturned the policy, as I’ve written.

  15. if they are risking the lives of the flight attendants they’re the ones who should be fired the flight attendants should wear mask or the government needs to shut down any flying in and out of all cities and states

  16. It’s common sense that wearing a mask will provide some degree of protection against inhaling airborne droplets contaminated with the virus. The better the mask, the better the protection. Korea and China seem to have gotten this under control. Everyone there wears government issued mask. Proves nothing, but it’s enough anecdotal evidence for me to improve my chances by wearing one.

  17. As a 20 year road warrior for a medical device company, I was very surprised at the amount of PPE (facemasks) being worn by the public and not by AA flight crews during my trip through CLT yesterday.

    There were at least a dozen flt crew, gate agents, ramp personnel, and concession folks at CLT for each passenger yesterday around 7PM. This ratio does not fare well for the AA or its employees, obviously. One thought I had was…dang, with the price of fuel at such an all time low, the airlines should be just making a financial killing right now…but I digress.

    What I could not help but notice – and, the reason I searched out this blog on the internet – was the fact I saw NO pilots or flight attendents wearing masks. I could not help but wonder: Was AA management discouraging masks because it might freak out the few remainging passengers it has left during this outbreak leading to even more reduced passengers thus affecting their bottom line?

    AA will be hurting for a long time after this is over no matter what they do or have done regaring masks. The fact is, They can no longer help themselves. After the pain they’ve caused their employees and the flying public in the name of profitablility, their demise just seems inevitable.

    While I’m not as familar with the problems their debt load is cousing them, the lack of customer focus poses the greatest risk to AA’s survival during the upcoming recovery period once this virus passes. I cite the following example:

    On one of my return legs yesterday, dispite social distancing concerns, the gate agent assigned six dead head crew members to sit in first class in close proxicimitry to me. I seriously thought about asking to be reseated to one of the many open seats in coach. (there were only five other passengers on this flt). AA might talk a good game regarding social distancing and protecting their employees and the public. But, when it comes down to it…as bad as mananement may treat their employees…they are going to put each other’s needs and desires above their passengers – the paying customer – everytime.

    Further illustration from yesterday is what happened during the boarding process. I have experienced this from flight crews many times in the past. It demonstrates the bigger issues AA has regarding customer service. Remember, there are a total of 11 passengers on this flt. The gate agent states: “we are going to be boarding by zones, yes believe it or not”. She then states “welcome Concier Key members…” I stand up and start moving to the boarding lane with my small back pack. She quickly adds “we now welome zone one…”. Here’s the rub: EVERY one of those six non-rev-AA-flt-crewmembers got up and walked right in front of me to board with their mobile-home roller boards. The gate agent allowed this to happen. The crewmembers not give it a second thought. It’s engrained in their culture.

    Lack of customer focus and service is what’s going to kill American Airlines, not the wearing or not of masks during this corona virus outbreak. Sooner or later the truth surfaces, and the truth is AA lost their focus on provide good customer service to the traveling public years ago.

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