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I’m a Flight Attendant. I’m Not Afraid. You Shouldn’t Be Either

I’m a Flight Attendant. I’m Not Afraid. You Shouldn’t Be Either
Amanda Pleva

I’ve flown through similar scares and life has continued on, just as I know it will again.

These days, passengers seem to be in one of two camps: Those who board flights looking ready to investigate a murder scene, and those who wipe runny noses on their sleeves and cough until their eyes nearly pop out of their head. The empty space between is left by those who don’t dare convene with the masses under the threat of infection. And those people are many.

A Different Reason to Be Scared

As a flight attendant, I only sometimes worry about getting sick – but then again I was a child who constantly rolled around in the dirt and was frequently admonished for eating things I picked up off of the ground. Despite my lack of germophobia, Coronavirus hysteria has given me slightly more pause than previous outbreaks of infectious disease, mainly because of the extreme economic toll it’s taken: British Airline Flybe is the first casualty, with more airlines predicted to join them, Austin, Texas-based music, film, and tech festival SXSW has been called off, and the Geneva Motor Show was canceled after the Swiss government banned gatherings of 1000 people or more. And that’s just for starters.

With business meetings and events being done away with in favor of telecommuting, and family vacations being carefully reconsidered, we are left with steadily emptying planes. Those left are either decked out with ninja masks and disinfectant wipes, or are they are the ones coughing on those people. It makes those of us working in the industry and those looking to travel really think: Are passengers and crew putting their lives and the lives of others in danger when they choose to travel?

A Worst-Case Scenario

I’m not afraid, and I don’t think you should be, either. But this doesn’t mean I don’t give thought to where things can go wrong.

The most alarming scenario is the one where I get sick. This is not that unlikely – so many of my passengers are sick and I’m the one interacting with them frequently and closely. Flight attendants tend to get sick fairly frequently anyway since we are exposed to so much for so long, and are actively lowering our immune systems with crazy schedules and time zone changes.

So I start feeling just a little bit off. I should just call in sick like the CDC recommends and common sense dictates, right? Well…I know I should – not just for my own well-being, but the hundreds of people I could be exposing to potential illness – according to a study by the FlyHealthy Research Team, a sick flight attendant is likely to infect an average of 4.6 passengers per flight – but the airlines have very rigid standards when it comes to calling out sick, which discourages employees from taking as careful an approach as perhaps should be taken. Most use the point system, assigning point value to different factors when one calls out from work: how much time is left before the trip when the call is made (a realization made less than two hours before work that you’re not in tip-top shape can give you an additional point), time of year (get sick on a major holiday, and it could spell major trouble), how many consecutive days you end up taking off, and whether or not the airline is short-staffed that day are all means to increasing points. Reach a certain number of these points – for some employers as few as 10 – and you’ll no longer have a job…or health insurance.

For some, this could mean just a few sick calls a year, which is not an unreasonable amount given a flight attendant’s daily exposure. But these standards, and fear of punishment, make calling out in the early days of an illness a difficult decision. If airlines want to prevent the further spreading of COVID-19, they might want to rethink, at least temporarily, the disciplinary procedures in place to allow flight attendants the opportunity to call in sick when they are sick.

This Is Where My Concern Ends

Am I naive? Perhaps. But I’ve flown through similar scares and life has continued on, just as I know it will again.

Behind the scenes, planes have never been cleaner, and for that in a big part we have you, the airline passenger, to thank. As soon as bags are stowed, flyers now take to wiping down every surface around them with disinfecting wipes (although they do then tend to litter them all over the plane, which isn’t very nice). But at least the seats, tray tables, and lavatory door handles are the cleanest they’ve ever been, without a doubt. And if our empty water tanks are any indication upon arrival, everyone is practically taking a full bath after using the lavatories.

The airlines are doing their bit by making disinfectant wipes and sanitizer readily available to crew and customers alike, and cabins are supposed to undergo deep cleaning once a day. Hot towel service is a thing of the past, at least for the time being. Gloves are now being allowed for use by flight attendants on some carriers when presenting meal & beverage service – a violation of uniform standards before.

I haven’t become one of the people who have a toilet paper and Tempranillo stockpile out of fear of an impending pandemic (I mean, I do have one, but only for fun reasons), nor will I join the hysteria. Despite what some may think, it’s a fine time to fly. Use common sense, follow official travel warnings, wash your hands frequently, and, most importantly, please stay home if you’re unwell. I promise to do the same.

View Comments (36)

36 Comments

  1. progapanda

    March 14, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    Ridiculously irresponsible piece. This is a novel coronavirus, meaning no one has immunity to it irrespective of how much you fly and whatever else you’ve been exposed to.

    “The most alarming scenario is the one where I get sick” – no the most alarming scenario is that your irresponsibility leads you to spread this virus among several other more vulnerable individuals, leading them to stress an already overwhelmed healthcare system.

    You’re in a position of great responsibility for your passengers’ safety. Please be a little more informed and live up to that high regard your passengers have for you.

  2. hikouki

    March 14, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    This article is just out of touch with reality. Agree that it is totally irresponsible. The WHO has spoken that countries that have downplayed the seriousness of this illness are the ones suffering today.

  3. CaliforniaSteve

    March 14, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    I’m 64; my wife is 68. We have some nervousness about ourselves, but we both have excellent underlying health, exercise religiously and eat healthy. So, even we’re we to get the virus, it could be a slog to recover from, but we would likely recover.

    Our fear is that we catch and unknowingly, since the symptoms don’t present for up to two weeks, pass it on to someone frail who, in turn, gets sick and dies. Our nieces and nephews, all in their 30’s now, have the same fear. It’s a large family on my wife’s side, and we have three or four people who are not in very good shape physically. If any of us were to pass CV on to one of them and they died, we would be devastated.

    I don’t begrudge the author her opinion. She’s entitled to it. But I don’t think encouraging people to fly any more than is absolutely mandatory is proper. We need to think about those more vulnerable than we might be.

  4. htb

    March 14, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    I’m shocked to learn that some companies appear to use a point system to encourage employees to continue to work even when feeling sick, and penalize employees who call in sick.
    Is there a way to avoid giving money to these companies?

  5. jmj9905

    March 14, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    proganda get real. This is a very reasonable post from a professioanl. We have a trip coming in April that is iad/lhr/jnd/wnd. Then spending 3+weeks in namibia and botswana. Unless the airlines or the camps cancel all 6 of us are going. The comparison to the 1918 pandemic is ridiculous. Thata event killed 20 million people. no comparison.

  6. shipcamein

    March 14, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    Agree with Progapanda. No one has ever been through this before. Ask Italy. Ask Spain. I guess some folks just gotta fly right now, but if any of you are sick, stay home, flight attendents included. I sympathize that your career might take a hit. It’s time to stop thinking about yourself.

  7. Halloweverybody

    March 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Lol,, “flown through similar scares. “ Um unless you were flying around in 1918 I’m going to have to call bs. Also I think you’re forgetting one of the more alarming scenarios is when you get infected, and if you are in the 98-96 percent.. then hopefully you don’t infect your parents, or your partners parents…

  8. ridepow

    March 14, 2020 at 10:28 pm

    This is an insanely irresponsible post to have up right now. Are you guys kidding me?? This is not about YOU as an individual, right now. This is about COMMUNITY. If you don’t have a absolutely necessary reason to fly, just don’t. Look at what Italy is going through right now. Disgraceful, FLYERTALK!

  9. EuropeanPete

    March 15, 2020 at 12:19 am

    Another terrible piece from FT – I really think the owners need to reconsider whether they really want to be involved in such irresponsible behaviour.

    “Worst case” for the author as a flight attendant is that she acts as a super spreader and brings the virus to a whole new location. She then kills her parents and grandparents and develops secondary complications herself but can’t get access to a hospital bed in one of her destinations and dies from lack of supplementary oxygen.

    Unless she is a lot older than suggested, she obviously has not flown through “things like this before”.

  10. jimbous

    March 15, 2020 at 12:42 am

    Finally a couple of words of sanity at this panic stricken time:
    “I’m Not Afraid. You Shouldn’t Be Either”
    Now, since most planes are flying almost empty it shouldn’t be a problem for the airlines to be more accommodating with crew sick calls.
    AND,
    perhaps promise to the passengers that they’ll be seated at least ONE METER apart from each other. On a 3-3 seating configuration plane, like the A320, it means only one alternating window/aisle occupied for each row.
    By doing so the airlines may manage to get the planes maybe 33% full!!! 50 passengers instead of 150. Better that than flying empty!!!
    By doing so perhaps more business people, that is higher fares, will be flying.
    Also, given that fuel prices are at pretty low levels now a flight may at least break even!!!
    NOW, if the government chips in a bit there may be a little profit.
    That is until this virus wears out, at the very least.

  11. jimbous

    March 15, 2020 at 12:51 am

    Also, for the time being there should not be ANY flight meal/beverage/peanuts/pretzels/water service to the passengers by the crew.

  12. TurboTing

    March 15, 2020 at 1:52 am

    Since when does a flight attendant’s naivete trumps the warnings of CDC and health officials… My sincere advice to the author of this article: Just focus on being a good flight attendant, and leave the health advices to the professionals.

  13. Kipale78

    March 15, 2020 at 3:10 am

    This is the second time in just a few days in which we read a frankly stupid and self-entitled article on the front page.

    You need to wake the hell up and start telling people how things really are, and to STAY HOME. Put pressure on airlines to waive the limits on points and miles and statuses, if you want to be useful, and then hope that airlines survive. Like all other businesses. Financially speaking, in a few months we will be in something like a post-war period. That’s what we need to get ready for. No time for useless fantasies and prolongued denial.

  14. drvannostren

    March 15, 2020 at 3:21 am

    I think it’s irresponsible to be totally complacent, but I agree with the wording of the title, I’m not “afraid” because I’m not really susceptible to dying because of it.

    I don’t WANNA get sick. I don’t want to pass it on to anyone if I get sick. Doesn’t mean I’m afraid.

    I also probably would travel in the next week or two if I could be guaranteed that a border wouldn’t be shut down or something. Getting sick is one thing, getting stuck somewhere forcibly is another.

  15. sweeper20

    March 15, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Flight Attendant training is the new medical school – doesn’t everyone know that?

  16. GadgetFreak

    March 15, 2020 at 8:41 am

    I think one of several ridiculously irresponsible pieces on coronavirus on FT. If this pandemic isn’t stopped or at least slowed down millions of people will die. Most of them will die terrible deaths with inadequate care. We need to stop saying this is like before and deal with it as it is. An enormous threat that only comes along every generation or two. Just look at italy and say we’ve had similar before. We haven’t.

  17. guy999

    March 15, 2020 at 8:49 am

    “the most alarming scenario” is you infect 4.6 people over 60 that are immunosuppressed and trying to do the right thing and get home quickly and you kill them.

  18. greytop13

    March 15, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Thank you, Amanda, for giving us insight into the system set by airlines to keep you flying no matter what. I heartily agree with you that carriers need to suspend the point system under these special circumstances so that their employees don’t feel pressured to work when ill. It’s also good to know passengers are taking measures to protect themselves and others inflight. Good luck to you.

  19. eddiehuang97

    March 15, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Stop with the “I’m young so I won’t die” narrative. 0.2% fatality rate for people who are under 30. Do you know what that means? 1 dies in every 500 young people. If there are 1 million young people infected, 20,000 dies. The fatality rate of flu among young people is 0.002%, meaning every 1 million infected 20 dies. Also you might get permanent damage to your lungs if you are one of the severe cases. THINK PEOPLE.

  20. Dave510

    March 15, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    I’m afraid. I’m in my 30s, physically fit, don’t smoke and have no health conditions at all. Chances are good that I will have little health complications if I get it, but I’m still afraid because I don’t want to get people killed, and definitely not my parents, who I frequently contact.

    This is not about yourself, this is about other people you care about, and your community at large. But maybe the author has no one that he/she cares about, which explains the extremely selfish opinion.

  21. Tack

    March 15, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    I find all the panicked outrage on here pretty ridiculous. I would expect everyone who says that this FA is acting irresponsibly are the same folks who, for whatever reason, have cleared the shelves of toilet paper, water etc. Mrs Tack just came back from her weekly shopping and all the cowards have cleaned out the meat section of our local grocery stores. So? We are heading out to eat for the next few nights, then on Thursday, I fly from SNA back east and will pick up my normal flight schedule. The best part, there isn’t thing one any of the “sky is falling crowd” can do about it, except maybe run back to the store, spread the virus themselves, and buy up more canned goods and rice. To those that are reprimanding Amanda, Congrats on being Corona Virus Spreading hypocrites yourself. While my wife and I will survive this, I feel for the older couple that my wife saw at the grocery who had nothing to purchase and spent extra time out and about looking for food. To those on this forum who have not panicked and are continuing to live your life, Cheers!

  22. bigbuy

    March 15, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Author is exposed less to this problem than the majority of retail workers especially cashiers.
    When did folks who work at airlines become medical professionals?

  23. leonidas

    March 15, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    This is a once-in-a-century global pandemic. Every single person who knows even a little bit about infectious disease transmission agrees.

    “But I’ve flown through similar scares and life has continued on, just as I know it will again.”.

    You haven’t. This is not “similar”. Period.

  24. overlord207

    March 15, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Stupid article, sure you may not be concerned about yourself getting sick or dying but that is entirely irresponsible to the more vulnerable community. What about those who live with kids, older family members, etc.

    You are selfish and not considering them.

  25. AsiaTravel2019

    March 15, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Finally, some sanity. A logically written piece of common sense amongst the fake news insanity. More people have died in the US from falling in the bathtub than the coronavirus. Wake up, America!

  26. jimbous

    March 15, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    Folks, let’s stop with the panic!
    The point the author is trying to make is that AT THIS POINT IN TIME travelling CAN BE done relatively safely.

    At this point in time the genie is already out of the bottle, this is NOW a pandemic, and travel is NO LONGER the ONLY WAY to contain it.

    As I stated before, at this point in time the ONLY WAY to “contain” this virus is for each individual to isolate and stay home for about 4 weeks or until all human carriers get thru the course of the illness and are no longer infecting.
    China did it and it is already having relatively positive results.
    But China is China where the government can force you to isolate at home, and the West is NOT China and that’s a huge challenge here.
    Italy is currently doing it and it’ll probably show similar results to China in a few weeks.

    Short of declaring martial law and 24 hour curfew, where if you go out you are arrested and placed in a 24 hour isolation, this is NOT realistic in the US.
    BUT, say a city, let’s just take a part of NYC, Manhattan an island where it’s very easy to close all bridges/tunnels, where all will be forced into home isolation for about 4 weeks, all human virus carriers in the island will get thru the course of the illness and after about a month the island will be virus free or almost free. Of course all hospitals will be allowed to operate with all appropriate precautions.

    Think of the movie 21 Bridges, where Manhattan is completely locked down with no exit or entry to the island including all 21 bridges but only for 24 hours.
    But in this virus time all its residents will be forced in total isolation for a month or maybe more.
    Of course, this is unrealistic not just for Manhattan but for an entire country the size of the USA.

    Today, it’s just as easy as travelling that one can get infected by going to the supermarket and bringing home an orange, a tomato, a banana or a package like cereal/chips/etc., or a bottle of milk/juice/etc. that was handled by an infected person, be it a customer or the store’s stock persons.
    Remember that this virus can live up to 24 hours on a paper surface or up to 3 or more days on plastic or metal surface.
    Also, keep in mind that even BEFORE this virus, supermarket cart handles/baskets were classified as one of the most serious germ carriers along with door handles and gas station pumps.

    Are you going home and washing that tomato or orange in hot water with anti bacterial or regular soap for at least 20 seconds?
    If not, you’re just as likely to be infected as not taking all appropriate precautions when travelling.
    But at some point in time you’ll be infected anyway.

    So, think about all possible ways to get the infected with the virus before one condemns travelling.

    Another VERY IMPORTANT issue to think about is what’s currently being reported, that the health professionals are worried about: that this virus is already mutating and the speeds of mutation.
    There seem to be two mutations, one deadlier and one weaker, and so far it seems the weaker mutation is the more widespread.
    That remains to be determined.

    It looks as if this virus will end up being like the annual flu virus requiring updated vaccines to “protect” against the mutated flavor of the month or season or year.
    Like the flue vaccines these vaccines will never be 100% effective.
    A vaccine for the present mutated form of this virus will not be widely available before end of 2021 or 2022 but by then another mutated form may appear, maybe deadlier.

    Now, the possibility arises of a virus that’s BOTH highly contagious AND highly deadly to all humans and perhaps pets.
    The best way to survive that one will be to move to your multi-acre ranch spread with its own water wells, livestock, and food farming capabilities! And, of course, a very well stocked arms & ammunition stockpile!
    Just kidding, of course!
    Or maybe not!!!

    In the mean time just make sure you lather up that tomato you just brought home from the market for at least 20 seconds!!!

  27. jimbous

    March 15, 2020 at 8:49 pm

    Now, if the Chinese can be convinced to be content with regular meat and potatoes or fried chicken instead of consuming all these exotic animal meats, and others in Africa to do away with all these “bush meats” we’ll all have a better chance of avoiding such animal to human virus mutation jumping.

  28. BobFF68

    March 15, 2020 at 11:42 pm

    I agree with most of above posts, totally irresponsible piece, not sure why FT not yet removed. In my home area near Milan, crematoriums are working 24 non stop, hospitals transformed in big ICU units, sometimes doctors have to chose whom to save or whom to leave behind, even for those who are already in their 80s or in severe conditions, I think is something none wants to face.

  29. mvoight

    March 16, 2020 at 12:02 am

    So, apparently she is ok with infecting other passengers………
    .

  30. shipcamein

    March 16, 2020 at 4:50 am

    If you’re headed out to dinner I hope it’s not in Ohio. No restaurants, no pubs. A decision coming to your hometown very soon. This decision is entirely based on folks who can’t do the same thing on their own. I’m paraphrasing our governor but that’s pretty much it. Stay home, people, this is not the effing flu.

  31. Tack

    March 16, 2020 at 6:48 am

    mvoight,

    Perhaps just as you are apparently ok with infecting other shoppers at the grocery store………

    Mass hysteria is what the real epidemic is here.

  32. md125

    March 16, 2020 at 11:15 am

    “The most alarming scenario is the one where I get sick.”

    No. You’re young and healthy. You’ll be fine. The most alarming scenario is the one where you’re responsible for those at risk getting sick and not making it.

  33. hoya68

    March 16, 2020 at 11:44 am

    I think I will take advice from Dr. Fauci rather than from Dr. Trump and Dr. Sean Hannity.

  34. jimbous

    March 16, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Dr. Faucci said that it’s because of Dr.Trump’s closing the borders to the Chinese passengers that the USA is in a far better situation today than it would otherwise be the case, probably saving tens of thousands from infection and death. Also his shutting down the borders to Europeans has helped a lot.

    Again it’s Dr. Faucci who said that!

    Don’t know about Dr. Sean Hannity but Dr. Faucci implies that you’re much better off with Dr. Trump’s decisions!

  35. FAA1996

    March 27, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Still feel the same after one of your colleagues passed away form COVID-19 this week? God knows how many passengers and other flight attendnates he infected on his way out.

  36. sweeper20

    April 16, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    How have the flights been, Amanda? Just curious since its safe….

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