American Airlines Will No Longer Discipline Flight Attendants For Wearing Masks

I wrote yesterday about an American Airlines flight service manager calling a flight attendant who had been reported for wearing a face mask. The airline confirmed this was against policy.

All over the world people are wearing masks now, especially in countries that have been most effective at containing the spread of COVID-19. Masks provide only limited protection for most wearers, though they do help to prevent the spread of the virus by the person wearing a mask.

Flight attendants are being asked to work trips to New York, to Seattle, and other areas of current concern. Passengers on board are often wearing masks. Alitalia required passengers to do so as a condition of flying.

United and Delta are both allowing flight attendants to wear masks. My call out over American policy was shared several thousand times, and picked up by others as well.

And now American has reversed its policy. Flight attendants now have the option of wearing masks, and will not be disciplined for doing so.

The following memo was sent out to cabin crew mid-afternoon on Sunday:

Latest from Jill Surdek

Face mask policy

In the last few days, we’ve seen an increase in questions from our team asking to wear face masks on the plane. There have been no changes to CDC recommendations regarding face masks for crews. They still do not consider it an effective protection again the virus. Health experts say the single most effective way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to wash your hands with soap and water, and avoid touching your mouth, nose, eyes and face. Face masks are impactful when worn by sick people. Nonetheless, some of you have said that it would make you feel safer and comfortable to wear a mask, so we will now permit this.

Starting today, flight attendants may wear face masks during all phases of flight, regardless of destination. Having said that, you’ve likely seen in the news there is a worldwide shortage of masks. That’s why we do not have inventory to supply face masks for each flight attendant. As a result, if you’d like to wear a mask, you’ll need to supply your own – and it should be a neutral color.

We’ve also seen reports of entire supplies of face masks being stripped from the kits onboard, which is creating a shortage. Please do not remove masks from the Grab and Go or Ancillary* (ANC) kits unless you are taking care of a sick customer. Due to the worldwide shortage of masks, we must conserve the ones supplied on the aircraft for confirmed medical emergencies. If you remove masks from these kits, please inform the captain by using a Cabin Discrepancy Worksheet (CDW), and fill out a CERS report within 24 hours.

* Note: The Ancillary kit may only be opened after contacting the physician on-call (POC).

Kudos to American Airlines for hearing the concern and re-considering its policy.

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. Finally, the right call. But not because it was scientifically or medically correct. As you properly state, the masks are not terribly useful — actually probably not useful at all — in protecting the wearer from the virus. We need to put the masks on people who might cough, sneeze, or breath to infect the airline’s staff. … This is a stress management behavior, and we humans are wired for it. We feel the stress of a situation — lion in the bushes — and we need to do something, sometimes anything, to make us feel less stressful. Probably a couple management folks at AA are choking on this accommodation to an irrational response.

  2. Well golly gee, here we go again with Parker’s AA humiliated here by travelers and crew who legitimately griped at the ostentatious mandates issued by AA decision makers oblivious to the common sense standards of the market.

    Here’s a thought-after our entry into WWI, the privately-owned railroads could not work together re logistics and moving material and people. So they were nationalized by Washington for the duration. How about this government put a marker down on Parker that either he get his act in order now, or, AA will be the Petri dish for fixing the needless problems.

    Just as Obama forced out the head of GM in 2009 when the auto makers came to Washington for a bailout, it’s time to stand-up Parker with the caveat: stop screwing with and threatening your employees over pathetically minuscule anti labor matters, or, go back to your USAir world.

  3. Brilliant! As I said, the discipline had a snowball’s chance in hell of being upheld if it ever got to arbitration. Plus disciplining employees in this situation is just plain stupid.

  4. again AA is reactionary – only taking any action when others take the initiative – tone deaf as usual

  5. As a firefighter/paramedic, it is good to know that American Airlines will not discipline their flight attendants who are simply trying to protect themselves from another American Airlines pilot or passenger who test positive for the COVID-19 virus.

  6. “As a result, if you’d like to wear a mask, you’ll need to supply your own – and it should be a neutral color.” What idiot stills cares about the color of the masks his employees are wearing during a global pandemic. Putz.

  7. Actually, the masks are effective if you use and handle it appropriately. Just most people put it on and off, pull it down, lift it to scratch, etc…

    South Korea, Taiwan, etc. have shown the effectiveness of masks and strict observance of distancing.

  8. Thanks Gary, for getting this out there. It means the world to see a mountain moved. Even if it is one of many many mountains that need a shove!

  9. N95 masks are extremely effective if used effectively, and are not reused. The only reason they are being discouraged for average people is due to the severe world-wide shortage. Medical staff needs them more than we do.

    One side benefit of wearing a mask — it’s much easier to avoid touching your face as you’re much more conscious of what you’re doing.

  10. Did Parker also reinstate home base reservation agents after discontinuing this group?

  11. If I see someone wearing a mask that isn’t a medical professional, I will presume that they are infected, and certainly keep my distance.

  12. This is precisely what happens when you put someone in charge of in flight crew that has never served a day as a flight attendant. Many critical necessities are being missed because inflight service was moved from flight operations management to marketing.

    The flight attendants are now overseen by the “shake hands and 3 martini” lunch crowd rather than by the more experienced and ready for critical action flight operations.

    I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never witness a management team bungle so many operational necessities as I have for the “New Anerican Airlines”. When this is over and life starts to resemble’ll be time to do a lot of clean up in AA management.

  13. TOO LITTLE TOO LATE, I’m reading Facebook posts of all my co-workers who have tested positive or are awaiting a test. TOO many AA flight attendants already have it. Why are we still flying around airplanes and transferring the disease? Shut down public air travel. Just fly goods, not people. We can’t refuse to work without the scare of discipline. But is our lives worth it?

  14. This is especially to Mark and others who blame all problems AA has on USAIRWAYS. I was a USAIRWAYS flight attendant and now AA and we had it together at this airline you so quickly blame for all the problems AA is committing. We never had the stress and unfounded situations we are having to face everyday. So unless you know what you are talking about, y ok I need to keep your mouth shut about USAIRWAYS. All of us loved this airline and we were treated much better there than the present. We feel like stepchildren and have little voice in anything. You have no right to criticize an airline you know absolutely NOTHING about when it comes to how they ran the airline or how they treated their employees. You would not to have ask twice for all of us to go back. We never knew how good we had it. So just keep your judgements to yourself.

  15. All staff and passengers should be required to wear a face mask when boarding a flight and throughout the flight. As we cannot know if a person is infected, the mask reduces the area of spray, if a person coughs, sneezes or speaks. Due to the forced close quarters of an aircraft, this will help to protect everyone on the flight.

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