Monday, April 04, 2005

Flight Attendant Fatigue

An article in the Washington Times last week reported on a meeting among representatives from several Flight Attendant unions -- the first ever Flight Attendant Fatigue Summit.

The meeting was held in Euliss, Texas, outside Dallas, at the headquarters of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents the flight attendants of American Airlines. The meeting was co-hosted by the Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, which represents the flight attendants of Southwest Airlines, and the Association of Flight Attendants -CWA, which represents flight attendants at 26 different airlines.

These days, many airlines are pressing their flight attendants to work the maximum number of hours allowed by the FAA, interspersed with only the minimum rest periods allowed by law.

Technically, the carriers may be operating within FAA guidelines for crew rest. But part of the problem lies with how rest periods are designated.

If flight attendants with, say, a nine hour rest period could actually have nine hours of rest, they probably would not complain. The truth is that the rest period clock starts ticking before a crew even leaves the airport after landing. An hour or more may pass before a crew arrives at their layover hotel. At that point, "rest" may still be hours away.

During a rest period, a flight attendant will likely need to find the time to eat -- after first finding a place to eat! Necessary activities such as bathing and grooming also are carried out during the rest period. Then, in whatever time remains, the flight attendant is supposed to actually rest.

If only they had a little switch on their bodies that they could flip to enable them to go to sleep as soon as they got into bed! Instead of being able to rest on command, they often have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep. They have to contend with time zone changes, unfamiliar surroundings, noise, and myriad other obstructions to a restful sleep.

The combination of long work hours and short rest periods for flight attendants is compromising safety, according to flight attendant labor leaders. They would like the FAA to reduce the maximum duty time for flight attendants, and increase the minimum rest period.

I would add that it also affects their health. As a researcher concerned with stress in the lives of aircrews, I know that there is hardly a more important topic than fatigue. I can't help but wonder, though, if "the powers that be" will listen to the flight attendants about their need for more rest.

Here's the first clue that "they" do not really care.

Cathy Lukensmeyer, APFA Treasurer, notes the following in a message she posted on the APFA website on April 1, 2005 concerning the Flight Attendant Fatigue Summit:

Unbeknownst to any of the Flight Attendant unions present, the Department of Transportation had scheduled a "Fatigue in the Workplace" seminar on Thursday, March 31, in Washington, D.C., during what has been labeled "National Sleep Awareness Week," March 28 through April 3. Ironically, no Flight Attendant representatives were invited to that conference.

Ironic indeed!!