Flight attendants fear about preventing passengers over masks, union president says


Flight attendants enforcing mask requirements on board are concerned about physical attacks from travelers, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said CNBC’s Squawk Box on Monday.

Nelson’s comments came just days after the Transportation Security Administration announced it would double fines for passengers who refuse to comply with the federal mask mandate for air travel. The union president said the TSA’s updated policy could help address more mask-related conflicts at the airport, thereby reducing problems for flight attendants on the plane.

“We worry every day when we go to work and put on this uniform, whether we’re the target and get slapped in the face today,” said Nelson.

Flight attendants have long been tasked with overseeing in-flight safety rules and regulations, Nelson said, but they have seen an increase in conflicts arising from mask requirements. The Federal Aviation Administration announced on July 7 that mask requirements had accounted for 75% of their recalcitrant passenger complaints since early 2021.

Under the TSA’s revised fee structure for those who violate mask requirements, first-time offenders face a fine of $ 500. The agency will impose a fine of $ 3,000 on anyone who violates the mandate more than once.

A United Airlines flight attendant is participating in the Crew Member Self-Defense Training Program in Chantilly, Virginia. In response to the increase in flight incidents, US Air Marshals are now offering self-defense courses for flight attendants.

Pete Marovich | The Washington Post | Getty Images

When asked if she would support compulsory vaccination for airline employees and passengers, Nelson said that flight attendants “mostly” support vaccine mandates. Nelson added that any vaccination mandate should include union collaboration and the necessary religious and medical exemptions set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines mandated vaccinations for their employees in August, while Frontier Airlines and Alaska Airlines introduced Covid testing requirements for all unvaccinated employees. Delta Air Lines increased health insurance premiums by $ 200 and introduced weekly Covid tests for unvaccinated employees.

“Everyone needs to be vaccinated and that’s the only way we can end this pandemic,” said Nelson. “This is the only way we will return to the freedoms we enjoyed before the start.”


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