Editor’s Note: Lori Bassani is the National President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants representing 28,000 American Airlines Flight Attendants. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
The other night I took a flight from Seattle to Dallas, and as I was maneuvering into my window seat in economy class, I couldn’t help but wonder: If it’s this difficult to get into my seat under regular conditions, how would I be able to get out in an emergency situation? And how could all the people on the plane get out in 90 seconds if there was an emergency evacuation?
As a flight attendant with 33 years of experience, I’ve witnessed the aviation industry undergo tremendous changes – and smaller seat sizes are just the beginning.
As a result, the recently confirmed administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Stephen Dickson, faces heightened public scrutiny about aviation safety as he steps into his role– particularly following the two devastating Boeing 737 Max crashes in the last year. To restore America’s faith in our aviation safety and regulation system, we are calling on Dickson to take crucial steps to protect all airline passengers and crew members.
In my role as the National President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), I represent the 28,000 flight attendants at American Airlines who are on the frontlines of passenger safety, security and comfort every day. While there has been much-needed scrutiny on the safety of the 737 Max, there is another urgent safety matter that Dickson needs to prioritize: implementing the FAA Reauthorization Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in October 2018.
The Reauthorization Act is a law intended to protect the safety of flight attendants, pilots and passengers through several key safety provisions, including a 10-hour rest minimum for flight attendants. But despite a 30-day deadline to implement these rest requirements,10 months later many of the key provisions of the law have not been enacted. In July, I told members of Congress that it is urgent that the FAA formally review seat size and evacuation plans, monitor cabin air quality, and ensure those flight attendant minimum rest times to protect passenger and crew safety.
Just about anyone who flies these days knows exactly why.
As economy class seats get smaller, legroom more limited, and aisles narrower, air travel has become an uncomfortable experience for many passengers and poses ever more evacuation dangers. It’s not just an issue that leads to more air rage.
Smaller seats can prevent passengers–especially older and larger individuals–from safely exiting an aircraft in emergency situations. Imagine the chaos of an emergency landing and consider that an increasing number of passengers, who must evacuate carefully and calmly, may not be able to maneuver around a cramped cabin. The Reauthorization Act requires the FAA to broadly review cabin evacuation procedures and changes to passenger seating configurations. However, the FAA has yet to take any action on this Congressional instruction.
The FAA Reauthorization Act has specific provisions to collect data on poor cabin air quality. Since July 2018, APFA has had over 1,500 fume events reported to our safety department. Passengers and flight attendants are put at risk from inhaling these fumes. Flight attendants have been hospitalized and, in some cases, suffered permanent damage to their health due to a lack of standard procedures for maintaining air quality. Although flight crews have to report fume events linked to issues with the aircraft to the FAA, the FAA currently has no standardized way of collecting reports of air quality in general or preventing fume contamination on an aircraft, so these incidents frequently go unreported.
As flight attendants, we are proud to be entrusted with passenger safety on every flight, but we need enough time to ensure that we’re rested and prepared ahead of long and challenging flights. The FAA Reauthorization Act increased the minimum number of rest hours between work days from eight to 10 hours, which hasn’t been implemented, to ensure that we have enough time to get to our hotel, have a meal, get enough sleep and return to the airport in time for our next flight. Flight attendants deserve the down time and our passengers deserve to have well-rested cabin crews ready to respond on a moment’s notice.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Flight attendants work hard every day to keep passengers safe and comfortable as they travel across the country and around the globe. Our union is proud to advocate for our members and the flying public, but we can’t do it alone. We urge Administrator Dickson to join us in our work to protect air travel safety by ensuring every provision of the FAA Reauthorization Act is implemented immediately. For the security of passengers, pilots and flight attendants, we cannot wait any longer.