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FAA will require more rest time for flight attendants

Under the new rule, airlines will be required to ensure that flight attendants have 10 hours of rest between shifts.

Acting Federal Aviation Administration head Billy Nolen and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson speak at a news conference to announce longer rest times for airline flight attendants between shifts at Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Oct. 4. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Airlines will be required to make sure that flight attendants get 10 consecutive hours of rest between shifts, according to new rules announced by the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday.

“I can tell you firsthand that well-rested crew members are important to safety,” said Billy Nolen, acting FAA administrator, who announced the signing of the rule at an event at Reagan National Airport. “And as we’ve seen too often recently, they are on the front lines of responding to unruly passengers who could threaten the safety of the flight and other passengers.”

Nolen was flanked by nearly two dozen flight attendants and union leaders, including Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, who praised the rule, saying it would improve the health and well-being of flight attendants who have spent more than two years dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Also in attendance was Julie Hedrick, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents those who fly for American Airlines.

“This rule is a long time in the making,” said Nelson, whose union represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 19 carriers. “Especially on the heels of coronavirus, and all the flight attendants have had to deal with longer days, shorter nights. With the reduction in schedules throughout this pandemic and also all of the combative passengers that they have had to face on not enough rest. Today, that is getting corrected. And we are going to see by the new year this implemented across the industry.”

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The increased rest time for flight attendants was one of several measures that were included as part of the 2018 FAA reauthorization act. Before the passage of the legislation, airlines were required to give flight attendants nine hours of rest between shifts. The new rule will take effect in 90 days.

Last fall, the FAA proposed regulations that required 10 consecutive hours of rest for a duty period of 14 hours or less. It also required the agency to bar carriers from reducing that rest period no matter the circumstance.

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“I thank the FAA for announcing its long overdue final rule on flight attendant duty and rest requirements, which has been a critical missing piece to ensure the safety of those who fly,” Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “After a nearly four-year delay, flight attendants — who operate in complex, dynamic, and often hazardous working environments — will have the rest they need to perform their duties and enjoy a better quality of life.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said: “Flight attendants perform critical safety roles on behalf of the flying public and have long deserved the same rest periods afforded to pilots.”

In an emailed statement, Airlines for America, which represents the nation’s largest air carriers, said that safety continues to be the industry’s top priority.

“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,” the group said. “This is why we continue to support scientifically validated and data-driven countermeasures to prevent fatigue.”

Airlines for America said last year that the rule could cost carriers upward of $750 million in the coming decade due to additional costs including travel and training.