- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Worn-out flight attendants want to change federal work rules that allow airlines to give them as little as eight hours of rest between flights.

Labor leaders from unions representing flight attendants say fatigue jeopardizes passenger safety and that more rest between flights would ensure that workers are alert in case of an emergency.

“There has been a lot said about fatigue in the cockpit, but we’re going to try to get something done about fatigue in the cabin,” said Pat Friend, international president of the 46,000-member Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents attendants at 26 airlines.

Leaders from the AFA, Transport Workers Union of America, Association of Professional Flight Attendants, Professional Flight Attendants Association and other unions plan to meet today in Dallas to discuss how to persuade the Federal Aviation Administration to ease their workload.

Major airlines schedule flight attendants to work maximum shifts that range from 10 hours, 30 minutes — as at Southwest Airlines — to 14 hours — as at US Airways, Continental Airlines, World Airways and American Eagle, a branch of American Airlines, according to the AFA.

The FAA establishes guidelines for the maximum length of work shifts and minimum length of rest periods, but unions negotiate with airlines to determine specific work rules for their flight attendants.

Federal rules prevent airlines from scheduling flight attendants to a shift longer than 14 hours, but workdays can last up to 16 hours because of delays from congestion, bad weather or mechanical problems, Ms. Friend said.

Airlines must give flight attendants nine hours of rest after a shift. But carriers can give flight attendants just eight hours of rest if they give a 10-hour reprieve after an employee’s next shift.

American Airlines gives its attendants the minimum scheduled rest period of nine hours.

American Airlines spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon said the carrier operates within the FAA guidelines.

“American has no greater priority than safety,” she said.

But flight attendants need more time off between shifts, said Thom McDaniel, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents the 7,800 attendants at Southwest Airlines.

“Safety issues extend to the cabin, too. They aren’t limited to the cockpit,” he said.

Pilots can fly up to eight hours in one day, though their work shift can last up to 16 hours, under rules established by the FAA.

Labor leaders are likely to ask the FAA to increase the minimum rest period and reduce the maximum work period for attendants.

“The FAA rules on flight time and rest for both pilots and flight attendants are fundamentally sound. They serve aviation safety very well,” FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said.

Unions can negotiate with airlines to establish work shifts that are shorter or rest periods that are longer than the FAA’s minimum standards, she said.

But unions have lost leverage in negotiations as airlines seek concessions to guard against bankruptcy or reorganize so they can emerge from bankruptcy, said Tommie L. Hutto-Blake, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 24,500 active and furloughed flight attendants at American Airlines.

American Airlines flight attendants agreed to reduce rest periods and increase work shifts as part of a concessionary labor agreement in May 2003 that helped the carrier save $240 million and keep it out of bankruptcy.

“We are working to help the company save money, but we have to protect our people,” Ms. Hutto-Blake said.

Last year, Congress funded an FAA study on flight attendant fatigue. The agency’s medical researchers could have the report completed by September.

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