Federal agencies Air Transportation

Flight attendants to receive longer rest breaks

Photo: izusek/iStockphoto

Washington — A final rule from the Federal Aviation Administration will require airlines to provide flight attendants with at least 10 hours of rest time between days they’re on duty.

The previous rest requirement was nine hours. The new rule applies to duty periods of 14 hours or less.

The rest-break increase was part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 302). Although then-president Donald Trump signed the legislation into law in October of that year, his administration failed to implement the rest-break requirement despite calls from labor unions.

“It’s been a long road, and it’s about time,” FAA acting administrator Billy Nolen said during a Sept. 4 press conference. “I can tell you it’s been a priority for me and for this administration, and that’s why we are here today. I’m a pilot, and as any pilot can tell you, we cannot fly the plane without the safety expertise and support of flight attendants.

“Flight attendants are trained to take action during emergencies, administer first aid, conduct evacuations, manage medical emergency. They know the location of every piece of equipment needed during an emergency: fire extinguishers, first aid kits, flotation devices, oxygen masks and emergency slides. They also check the equipment before flight.”

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the movement for flight attendant duty period limitations and rest requirements started in the late 1980s. She credited the work of the late Norman Mineta, former chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, for grassroots efforts in proposing changes to duty and rest rules.

These developments, Nelson said, ultimately led to congressionally mandated studies that “determined that not only was fatigue rampant among our ranks, but it also had other impacts on contributing to increased risk in health for flight attendants, increased risk in cancer, in cardiac issues and in all kinds of respiratory issues. And the lack of rest was contributing to those health problems.”

Nelson agreed that the rule was overdue, especially amid additional challenges that have been spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Flight attendants have had to deal with longer days, shorter nights with the reduction in schedules throughout this pandemic and also all of the combative passengers that they have had to face on not enough rest,” she said. “Today, that is getting corrected, and we are going to see by the new year this implemented across the industry.”

The rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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