The Association of Flight Attendants union, AFA-CWA,has asked the US Departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services to restrict “air travel to only that necessary to continue essential services.”
The Union’s president Sarah Nelson’s letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also asked government to provide PPE (personal protective equipment) to airline staff and ground handlers and to offer the flying public disposable masks for free in lieu of handmade cloth coverings.

“Airlines are continuing to deliver people, mail, and cargo, uniting families that are grieving or rushing to be with those who have fallen ill, and transporting others who require medical treatment unrelated to the pandemic,” the Union’s letter reads. “These are some of the many essential services provided by aviation to all of our communities – large and small - that must be maintained as the pandemic continues. We believe that protecting this essential service and ensuring air travel is not aiding in spread of the virus requires a halt to all leisure travel until the pandemic is brought under control according to health authorities.”

Last week, United Airlines announced all flight attendants must wear face masks or face coverings while working making it the first US airline to enact this policy.  Other airlines such as Air Canada have already required the same policy and more are expected to follow suit. Some airlines like Etihad have begun screening passengers before boarding for COVID-19.

Currently travelers in New York (the hardest hit pandemic hot spot in the US) are allowed to travel on public transportation with homemade fabric masks for essential reasons. Although some states like New York are in strict lockdown, others like Georgia are opening back up and easing restrictions. More beaches in Florida were opened last week for recreation and exercise. The mayor of Las Vegas has also publicly called for easing of restrictions in her city.

The Flight Attendants’ union is asking that “the federal government provide all airports sufficient numbers of disposable cloth or paper masks that are more effective than homemade masks at limiting viral spread. These should be provided free to all members of the public entering airport buildings with the stipulation that they be worn at all times on airport property and on airplanes, and only removed momentarily when necessary for identity verification or food and drink.”

Although many airlines have curtailed flights, US carriers like American Airlines and Delta are increasingly turning to cargo sales as a way to keep their routes open and to bring in limited amounts of revenue until restrictions ease.  Empty flights are the norm and even when passengers return, many airlines have stated that middle seats would be blocked until further notice.