FAA mandates more rest for flight attendants to combat fatigue

An aircraft flies past the control tower as it prepares to land at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport, May 25, 2015. (TREVOR COLLENS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday announced a new rule increasing the amount of rest time airlines must give flight attendants between shifts.

The new rule, which the FAA proposed late last year, boosts the required rest time from nine consecutive hours to 10 hours for flight attendants between their shifts, which can reach as long as 14 hours.

Officials touted the new rule as helping mitigate fatigue among flight attendants.

“It’s been a long road, and it’s about time,” acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said at a press conference. “I can tell you it’s been a priority for me and for this administration, and that’s why we are here today. I’m a pilot and as any pilot can tell you, we cannot fly the plane without this safety expertise and support of flight attendants.”

The change was first reported by CNN.

Sarah Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said congressionally mandated studies found flight attendants had increased risk for cancer, cardiac issues and respiratory issues in part because of the lack of rest, calling the nine-hour requirement a “safety loophole.”

“We continue to make this one standard of safety and continue to press forward to ensure that this minimum rest is applied for cargo pilots,” she said.

Congress passed the rule in 2018, but it was never implemented by the Trump administration. Nelson at the press conference repeatedly applauded the Transportation Department and FAA’s work to implement the rule, tying its success to the “consequences of elections.”

“We are so happy, this was time to happen, and especially on the heels of coronavirus and all that flight attendants have had to deal with,” Nelson said. 

“Longer days, shorter nights with the reduction of schedules throughout this pandemic and also all of the combative passengers that they have had to face on not enough rest,” she continued. “Today, that is getting corrected, and we are going to see by the new year this implemented across the industry.”

Unruly passenger investigations soared during the pandemic, hitting an all-time annual record of 1,099 in 2021 as flight attendants enforced a federal mask mandate in mass transit.

The number of initiated investigations has fallen since the mandate ended, but the rate remains more than double that of any time before the pandemic, according to FAA data.

The airline industry has also struggled to grow their operation to meet resurging demand after downsizing during the pandemic. The problems have led many airline labor groups to protest for better pay or improved conditions.

“The safety of all crewmembers and passengers is always the top priority of the U.S. airline industry,” said Hannah Walden, a spokesperson at Airlines for America, a trade association that represents major air carriers.

“We are proud of our industry’s safety record and are committed to ensuring air travel remains the safest mode of transportation in the world,” she continued. “Having rested and alert flight attendants who are prepared to carry out their responsibilities, including cabin safety and other duties, is critical to this goal. This is why we continue to support scientifically validated and data-driven countermeasures to prevent fatigue.”

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 24,000 American Airlines flight attendants, endorsed the new rule, saying in a statement that pandemic-era operations have been “incredibly trying” for flight attendants.

“We have reached this critical milestone today as a result of working together with our labor partners and Washington,” said Julie Hedrick, the group’s president. “Flight attendants across the country are cheering this announcement.”

Updated at 9:55 a.m.

Tags airlines Billy Nolen Federal Aviation Administration Flight attendant Sarah Nelson

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