- Sarah Nelson, head of the largest US flight attendants’ union, called on the federal government to offer more, better, and more coordinated resources and information on the coronavirus.
- American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have all cancelled flights to China and taken other precautions to protect against the outbreak.
- However, Nelson says a disorganized federal response has caused problems.
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The head of America’s biggest flight attendants union is calling on the federal government to do more to help airlines combat the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.
“This can’t be solved by private industry alone, or workers, or unions,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said on a media briefing call. “Our government must deploy a coordinated response to prevent spread, uh, treat those infected and provide resources and information for workers and the general public.”
Nelson’s union represents flight attendants at 20 airlines, including United, and is in the midst of an organising drive at Delta.
According to Nelson and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who was also involved with the briefing, criticised the federal government for a piecemeal approach to the virus, offering disjointed and inadequate information and resources.
Nelson credited airlines for taking a proactive approach to suspending routes and providing flight crews with information and supplies, saying that she wanted “to recognise that the airlines worked well with us right from the start, and United was very proactive.” However, she said that because precautions have been left up to each individual airline, the approach has not been entirely unified across the industry.
“Each carrier is currently determining individual policies regarding travel” Nelson said, “and it really would be much more helpful if the Department of Transportation issued consistent guidelines.”
“They need to convene work groups that include stakeholders and relevant departments, especially the Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education, Labour, FEMA, and the CDC, to coordinate delivery of recommendations, guidance, and materials,” she added. “Issuing uniform guidance across relevant industries that ensure consistent standards of caution.”
The CDC issues a list of recommendations for airlines last month. However, the guidance focuses primarily on identifying possibly sick passengers and notifying officials on the ground, which is not necessarily an effective way of preventing the virus’ spread on a plane.
“What’s concerning about the coronavirus is that people who are infected and not yet displaying symptoms can still spread the disease,” Nelson said.
A spokesperson for United detailed coronavirus precautions the airline is taking to Business Insider, such as disinfecting hard surfaces after each international flight. While that can be effective, Nelson said that she is concerned that the people cleaning the planes may not be fully equipped to protect themselves.
“So much of this work has been outsourced, and without clear government regulations on how to actually disinfect the aircraft, that instruction is not necessarily clear,” she said. “We’re also hearing that those aircraft cleaners are not consistently getting the supplies to protect themselves, they’re not being given masks and gloves. And that is because of a lack of guidance from the CDC and in general from the government.”
The US Department of State issued a travel warning on China in late-January. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United have all suspended flights to China as travel demand has plummeted due to concerns over the virus.
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