United Airlines flight attendants are protesting the carrier’s decision to reinstate pre-departure beverage service for premium passengers on all mainline flights beginning November 23, although the airline’s union insists it has nothing to do with flight attendants being lazy.
United planned to restore a raft of extra pre-pandemic service components, including correct glassware and pre-departure refreshments, according to a widely circulated internal letter released earlier this week.
United plans to limit pre-departure beverage service to pre-poured water or sparkling wine for the time being, but the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) is concerned that the airline has mistimed the rollback of pandemic protections, with Covid cases already surging in Europe and infections beginning to creep across the United States.
Airlines cut inflight service at the outset of the pandemic to ensure that flight attendants had as little contact with passengers as possible. Based on what we understood at the time about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, health officials advocated social distance and decreasing in-flight service.
Despite universal masking, extensive immunization, and access to novel and advanced COVID-19 treatments that drastically cut hospitalization and death rates, U.S.-based airlines have been much slower than many other carriers to restore pre-pandemic service aspects.
While several of United’s international competitors have been selling pre-departure beverages for months, the airline is one of the first in the United States to recommit to the once-familiar welcome beverage.
However, the flight attendant union’s argument against pre-departure refreshments is compelling. AFA objected to the return of pre-departure beverages after trials in August for two key reasons.
The first reason was the obvious loss of social distance as a result of flight attendants having to come near to passengers throughout the service while weaving amongst passengers boarding the plane.
The second explanation, on the other hand, was far more intriguing. Customers who are forced by law to wear a face mask board planes only to be greeted by rows of maskless luxury customers sipping their welcome beverages.
“This “visual” created stands in stark contradiction to the messages to which passengers have been exposed prior to boarding about the need to keep your nose and mouth covered with a mask due to federal regulations,” the union wrote in a message to its members on Friday.
“We have expressed concern that this will only present additional challenges for Flight Attendants seeking to gain compliance with the Federal Mask Mandate,” the memo continued.
On a flight from Anchorage to San Francisco last week, a lady was accused with assaulting a United Airlines flight attendant after he ordered another passenger to adjust his face mask so that it covered both his mouth and nose.
President Biden’s government face mask has been a strong supporter, and the Association of Flight Attendants has advocated for it to be extended. It is now scheduled to last until February 2022 at the earliest.
“Lest our objection to the return of this service become mischaracterized, we want to say upfront, this is not about Flight Attendants not wanting to offer this service to passengers on the aircraft,” the union insisted on Friday.
“None of the employees of United Airlines more than Flight Attendants wants to return to a sense of normal on the aircraft, sooner rather than late”.
Many United customers, according to AFA, will agree that this is not the time to reinstate pre-departure beverage service. Customer satisfaction numbers, according to AFA, show that pandemic-related precautionary measures are appreciated by customers.