0 min left

Crewed Talk: Give It a Rest! Flight Attendants NEED to Sleep!

“Sometimes, when I’ve been off work for a bit, I forget how insanely demanding it is on the body. I mean, I KNOW, but I ‘forget’ how it feels.”

That was me on Twitter, on my first trip back after a recent vacation. I’ve got flight attendant exhaustion on the mind for some very first-hand reasons — and that tweet came from the relatively generous rest of a international layover. It must be acknowledged that my optimistic memory led me to return to work too early from illness, and that mistake is on me, but to be fair, it’s an easy mistake to make. If I hadn’t been on a long-haul sequence (far more likely to have generous layovers due to flight time/time zone practicalities) I don’t think I would have made it through. I really thought about that.

Two years ago pilots obtained 10-hour minimum layovers — including 8-hours of uninterrupted sleep — with FAR 117. FAR 117 isn’t perfect, but it sounds like heaven to flight attendants. There is some push for us to obtain similar rest, but I don’t see us anywhere close to achieving it.

Our trips are still built under rules which allow for nine-hour layovers, reducible to eight. In that time flight attendants must: find transport to the hotel, check-in, get to their rooms, shower, unwind enough to achieve sleep, sleep, get up and ready for the new day, and find transport back to the airport. Keep in mind, that tight itinerary assumes that we do not need to eat between shifts.

I have interest in bidding domestic again… at least I think I do until I see the schedules each month, which always ends like this:

I never manage to pull the trigger, and it’s all down to the lack of rest, which is obvious even at a glance.

Last week I picked up a single 10-hour layover domestic trip to freshly test it out. I hustled to manage 7.5 hours in the bed, which I was proud of eking out until the hotel’s fire alarm went off at 2 a.m. and we had to evacuate. In situations like that, pilots have the option to call in and reset the clock on their eight-hour window for sleep. As for us, I ended up with about 6 hours of sleep, followed by a duty day that stretched to 13. A 10-hour minimum layover still pinches a full-night’s rest, but it’s certainly not going to happen with anything less.

What’s that you ask? Why, yes! The U.S. does have among the lowest of international standards for cabin crew rest!

The problem of minimum rest coupled with maximum duty wasn’t quite as severe when I started flying as it is today. One reason for this is because pilots have always had more rest protections than cabin crew, and we used to be scheduled together for entire trips. We could often “hide behind” our pilots’ requirements when delays ate into our rest time. These days, however, we might get new pilots every flight, so we’re on our own.

I’ll spare you further detail of modern scheduling trends, but know that today, thanks to more agile computer software, maximizing scheduling efficiency is a different beast than it was in the 90s, and the results are exactly as “fun” as they sound.

Long-haul international flight attendants have other fatigue challenges, but those are difficult to solve with any level of practicality. Domestic rest issues are not complex, nor are they difficult to resolve or, at the very least, ameliorate. It only takes the right people caring that it is a problem — but that is currently not the situation.

I found it amusing when a management friend tried to explain to me that: “Flight attendants think they want 10-hour minimum rest, but they don’t. It would be terrible for them.”

Oh really?

She explained how the knock-on effect would be that: “You’ll spend more time at work, getting stuck in random cities because delays mean we can’t just reduce the layover [as drastically as they do now] to keep your planned schedule together.” Our trips would have to be built less efficiently (to leave more wiggle-room for delays) and certain very-high-paid-hour trips would become “illegal” by definition.

I’m sure the concern is all for us!

She’s right on the angle that there would be some undesirable consequences, but I’ve yet to meet a flight attendant who thinks our current rest situation is preferable. They’re probably out there! We all know stews who are high-time flying machines. They’d fly to the moon and back without a break if allowed, and I’m only kind of joking here.

BUT! That doesn’t mean they should! This article does a great job of illustrating that the status quo is not just about “our” preferences for efficiency. The issue is way more serious than that and extends beyond the aircraft, even if the airlines would like to convince us otherwise.

More details on flight attendant rest and studies can be found here. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook!

[Photo: iStock]

Comments are Closed.
chocolate_button July 15, 2015

Boo hoo. Get over it. Resident physicians have a much more demanding job with less sleep.