Approximately 100 American Airlines flight attendants have tested positive for COVID-19, a number union leaders say is likely to increase, according to a message to members from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
That’s still less than 1% of the 25,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, but companies including air carriers have been quiet about how many employees have contracted the virus at the center of a global pandemic that has shut down much of the economy and almost all of the world’s air travel.
American Airlines did confirm that one flight attendant in Philadelphia, Paul Frishkorn, died from COVID-19 on March 23. An American Airlines pilot and baggage handler at DFW have also received positive COVID-19 tests.
Three TSA agents at DFW have also tested positive for the virus, the agency has reported.
“We will get through the COVID-19 crisis but need to make everyone realize the seriousness of this threat,” said a letter from the health team at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. “COVID-19 is a deadly global pandemic, and it has impacted our health, and now our financial livelihood, negatively.
“Without a doubt, that number will increase in the following days and weeks.”
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has also not disclosed any specific positive COVID-19 cases at the carrier, although several flight attendants say they are aware of positive tests, have been diagnosed themselves or are in quarantine because of exposure to another flight attendant with COVID-19.
“Some flight attendants have tested positive for COVID-19 while on duty, and the numbers are rising,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, representing Southwest flight attendants.
Montgomery said Southwest needs to more thoroughly clean planes and to give crew members personal protective equipment such as masks. Flight attendants and other employees at Southwest are still providing their own masks.
American Airlines Flight attendants have been pushing for health protections since COVID-19 became a threat in January, first on international flights and then domestic. American has allowed flight attendants to wear gloves and face masks to help cut down on the risk of spreading germs. American Airlines has also blocked seats near flight attendants, reduced the in-flight distribution of snacks and beverages and given passengers more freedom to move between seats.
“The safety of our customers and team members is our top priority,” said a statement from American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein. “We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials and are coordinating with them on any required health and safety-related measures. We continue to look at all ways we can care — and protect — our team during this stressful time.”
American Airlines would not disclose how many total COVID-19 cases it has in the company. American is contacting employees that have potentially been exposed to confirmed cases and asking those people to quarantine for two weeks.
Public health officials are responsible for contacting passengers about potential contact.
So far, American has allowed flight attendants and other crew members to bring their own masks, but said this weekend they have secured face masks for crew members and will be distributing those over the next few days.