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

Image Credit: pimchawee/Shutterstock

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.

sweeper20 April 16, 2020

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

FAA1996 March 27, 2020

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.

jimbous March 16, 2020

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!

hoya68 March 16, 2020

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

md125 March 16, 2020

"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.