‘I’m worried about what’s going to happen’: How Covid made airline jobs risky and exhausting in the United States | Airline industry
FBetween massive leaves, voluntary job losses and retirements, understaffing issues and an increase in harassment and assaults by unruly passengers, airport and airline workers continue. to bear the brunt of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the airline industry.
The sector has been among the hardest hit by Covid-19, shedding around 100,000 jobs in the first months of the pandemic. Through three rounds of funding, Congress provided the industry with $ 54 billion in federal aid to keep workers on payrolls, while Delta Variant surges have stifled the resumption of air travel to levels national and international.
U.S. airlines disagree on whether to implement vaccination mandates for their employees, while passengers are not required to be vaccinated or have a negative Covid test to fly and some airlines have not supported the extension of mask warrants on US domestic flights.
“In my entire career, I have never experienced what we are going through right now,” said an American Airlines flight attendant who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal because she is not authorized to speak with the media. “I’m going to work now and I’m always worried about what’s going to happen, what’s going to trip someone up, trigger their anger. It’s a whole new ball game right now and it’s a different kind of passenger that we’re seeing right now. “
They said flight attendants were constantly dealing with angry passengers who refused to comply with federal mask mandates for all flights, and would like to see more management support and paid self-defense training provided. to all flight attendants.
As the enforcement of Covid’s safety protections fell on flight attendants, workers still fear contracting the virus and passing it on to loved ones, and grappling with stressful working conditions and the loss of several colleagues died from the virus.
So far in 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration has fined unruly air passengers more than $ 1 million and received around 3,900 individual reports. A national survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants published in July 2021 by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) found that 85% of flight attendants experienced disorderly passengers in 2021, and one in five has suffered physical incidents.
Workers in the airline industry face additional risks associated with Covid-19: a lack of sick leave pay, a widespread understaffing, and the application of Covid-19 safety protocols.
Delta Air Lines plans to increase health insurance premiums for all unvaccinated employees from November 2021 and will require them to take weekly Covid tests from September 12. Delta said the policy was aimed at mitigating the financial impact of Covid-19 infections, as the average hospital stay for the coronavirus cost the company $ 40,000 per person.
A Delta Air Lines ramp agent in the U.S. Midwest who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal said he viewed Delta Air Lines’ decision to increase health insurance premiums for unvaccinated employees as bad news. marketing rather than as a concern of the company for the health of their workers.
“To date, the people responsible for cleaning your plane before boarding are contract workers who do not have health insurance. These are the people who can least afford to be sick and who are most likely to resist and come to work with illness, ”said the worker.
The ramp agent has already used the accumulated sick leave to cancel his job because he was not feeling well and went to be tested for the coronavirus. Managers have threatened to start berating employees for calling work for double shifts – which are the only type of shifts this worker has.
A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines said in an email: “Our leaders are encouraged and empowered to support our employees who need time off to get tested and take care of themselves.”
Some workers in the airline industry are employed by third-party contractors and have long suffered from low wages and a lack of benefits or health care, issues that became even more distressing during the pandemic and as domestic travel recovered until the summer of 2021.
Jane Spurka, a wheelchair attendant for an entrepreneur, Bags Inc, at Orlando International Airport in Florida, was on leave from March to August 2020. Shortly after returning to work, Spurka was injured in work and had to work despite the pain of his injury. until her workers’ compensation claim is processed in May 2021. She has been on light duty since then.
“We’re understaffed, overworked and unappreciated,” said Spurka, who earns $ 7.98 an hour plus tips. “If we’re sick, whether it’s a simple cold or the flu, we have no choice but to work. There are no paid days. We don’t get anything from the company.
She said the wheelchair attendants were so overwhelmed that they couldn’t take breaks, often boarded two passengers at a time, and were subjected to the anger and frustration of airline passengers.
Joseph Gourgue, 62, a receptionist and wheelchair attendant at Orlando International Airport, recently contracted Covid and received no pay for the two weeks of work he missed while on assignment. quarantine. He also passed the virus on to his wife. He has pre-existing health issues and said he would have stayed home longer, but couldn’t afford it.
“All the company does is make sure you work every day and do your job,” said Gourgue, who is paid just above the federal minimum wage and relies on tips from passengers. “This is why I have worked so hard with my colleagues for the past two years to organize myself. They will have to negotiate, look us in the eye. I don’t like the idea of workers being exploited, but this is America right now. “
A spokesperson for Bags Inc declined to comment on specific employees, citing company policy, but added in an email: part-time status and other factors. We value our employees and are committed to providing a safe work environment and complying with government regulations where applicable. “