Flight attendants union: FAA partial shutdown hurting 'real people'

Despite assurances that traveling safety has not been affected by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, the head of the union for flight attendants said the impact of the impasse is still being felt by broad swaths of the American public. 

"This is not some Washington inside game," Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Veda Shook said in a conference call with reporters Friday. "Real people with real families and real bills to pay are suffering because of the shutdown of the FAA."

About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed last week when the last appropriations bill for the FAA expired last Friday. The House and Senate could not agree on a new measure before the deadline, and the chambers are still gridlocked a full week later.

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The deadlock stems from a provision in the House version of a short-term extension of the FAA funding bill that eliminates some subsidies for rural air service through the Essential Air Service program. A longer-term bill has been bogged down by a House effort to undo rules on unionization of railroad and airline employees that would make it harder for them to vote to collectively bargain.

The FAA has not had a long-term authorization bill since the last measure that was passed in 2004 expired in 2007.

Shook said Friday that it was essential that a deal is reached soon. 

"Yesterday in Alaska, they had a 5.3 magnitude earthquake," she said. "One of the projects that has been held up is a seismic sensor for the airport in Anchorage." 

Shook dismissed the notion that the shutdown of the FAA should take a backseat to the looming deadline for extending the federal debt ceiling, which has consumed much of Washington as the week dragged on. 

"Why can't they multi-task," she said. "I'm a flight attendant. When I go to work, I have to pay attention to what's happening in front of me and behind me, ensure the safety of the passengers, all while pleasantly serving drinks. I would think a congressman could pass a bill to put people back to work while dealing the debt ceiling." 

As the House scrambled to round up votes on Friday for a bill to increase the debt ceiling, however, there was little indication that might happen.