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FAA seeks new minimum rest periods for flight attendants

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According to a document released on Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing to require flight attendants to have at least 10 hours of rest time between shifts after Congress mandated the measure in 2018.

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents major airlines such as American Airlines (AAL.O), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), United Airlines, and others, previously estimated that the rule would cost its members $786 million over ten years, owing to unpaid idle time away from home and schedule disruptions.

Although the majority of U.S. flight attendants receive 10 hours of rest from airlines, aviation unions warned the FAA that the regulation should be implemented quickly for safety and security concerns.

Flight attendants are entitled to at least 9 hours of rest under current regulations, but this can be reduced to as little as 8 hours in certain circumstances.

“Flight attendants serve hundreds of millions of passengers on close to 10 million flights annually in the United States,” the FAA said, adding that they “perform safety and security functions while on duty in addition to serving customers.”

It noted examples of the “potential for weariness to be associated with the poor performance of safety and security-related jobs,” such as a flight attendant almost causing an emergency escape slide to be deployed in 2017, which was ascribed to fatigue and other concerns.

The FAA estimates that the policy will cost $118 million per year and will result in the hiring of 1,042 additional flight attendants. It claimed that halving recruiting assumptions would result in a 30% reduction in expected costs.

Delta announced in February 2020 that it would mandate the 10-hour rest requirement after the FAA published an advance notice of the anticipated rules in 2019.

On Thursday, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson will testify before a House Transportation Subcommittee.

The delay in the FAA adopting the flight attendant rest rule and mandating additional flight deck barriers to further protect the cockpits on all newly manufactured airliners, according to House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, is “unacceptable.”

Attorneys at the FAA “need a little nudge” to act faster on rules when Congress orders them, DeFazio said at the hearing on Thursday. “You don’t have to think about it for three years… you just do it.”

The rule, according to Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 50,000 workers at 17 airlines, is vital.

“Flight attendant fatigue is real. COVID has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short nights, and combative conditions on planes,” she said. “Congress mandated 10 hours irreducible rest in October 2018, but the prior administration put the rule on a process to kill it.”

Flight attendants have dealt with a record amount of disruptive, sometimes violent customer situations throughout the epidemic, with the FAA noting 4,837 unruly passenger reports since January 1, including 3,511 for refusing to wear a mask.

The FAA proposes that the new flight attendant rest standards become effective 30 days after they are published in their final form.

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