Apr 20th, 2020, 06:46 AM

Meet a Flight Attendant Braving the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Emilie Jurion
Delta Airlines cuts their flights by 40% amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Flight crews are being called “heroes of the skies” as they put themselves at risk with traveling passengers even after the CDC advises all nonessential travel as stay-at-home orders are implemented across the world. 

I spoke on the phone with a Delta Airlines employee to discuss how flight attendants are braving the COVID-19 pandemic and to abide to Delta’s policies, the flight attendant has to remain unnamed. Considered “essential critical infrastructure workers” by the United States government, roughly 119,000 flight attendants are exempt from CDC guidelines. 

“For a little over two years, I’ve been working as a Delta flight attendant. I’ve had a couple of friends that do it and I’m young enough that I thought that all the traveling would be adventurous”, she tells me. Subsequently, this brave flight attendant assures me that she’s continuing to fly for Delta but it’s significantly less, with fewer passengers. On March 24, TSA counted an 87% decline in travelers in the USA versus the same time last year.

“There are very few people are on flights, I flew yesterday to San Diego and back and I had 23 people and only 18 on the way back with 180 total seats on the plane," my source confides. 

The flight crew is aware that they’re putting themselves at risk by being in the confined space of an airplane for hours at a time. Especially following the death of American Airlines flight attendant Paul Frishkorn on March 23. While airlines are not making the number of flight attendants who have been tested positive public knowledge, union representatives say that based on self-reported numbers, they are already in the hundreds.

“We know the risk we are facing working the flights. But we’re considered ‘essential workers’ in the airlines. It’s our job”, the attendant says

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Delta Airlines' Instagram, @delta has been posting various art to promote positivity during these times. Image credit: @Delta
 

The Delta flight crews are also able to call a hotline service to discuss any of their needs. Through June 30, 2020, there are significant changes in cleanliness standards to help with social distancing measures such as minimizing the snack service to only once during the flight, lessening trash runs and changing where people are sitting to minimize person to person contact. There is also an increased filtration system for the recirculated plane air with and a disinfected fogger machine that is turned on overnight and in between flights.

My source says that she continues to wear her mask, but it poses a bit of a challenge. Wearing a mask affects her ability to speak clearly to people on the flight. Although, her need to speak to people in general has declined. If any flight attendants notice any passengers with visible symptoms, there are different protocols. Her flight crew typically discusses the measures that would need to be taken, which may be deciding to isolate the sick passenger until landing. Afterwards, the flight attendants and the pilot are quarantined for two weeks.

“I’m worried about getting the virus obviously, but I do feel protected”, she assures me.

With the airline industry facing financial stress, bankruptcy with a tremendous drop in passenger demand and unprecedented travel bans as a result of the pandemic, job security may be a rising concern. At the moment, Delta is offering voluntary paid leaves to flight attendants to avoid furlough. The airline is non-unionized, but the union campaigns have caused an interesting dynamic in the media. According to the attendant, Delta is doing well with their furlough in September and hopefully only letting people go temporarily. 

Our phone call came to an end in a shared the consensus that the airline industry will surely transform as it bounces back from the coronavirus. I hung up the phone and sat in silence for awhile. During this time of uncertainty, it is only natural to ponder, “How will we evolve?”