The new rules require 10 hours of rest between shifts when flight attendants are scheduled to work for 14 hours or less. Before, airlines had to provide flight attendants with just nine hours of rest after they’ve worked 14 hours or less.
Officials touted the new rule as helping mitigate fatigue among flight attendants.
Acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen was joined by flight attendant unions at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday morning to celebrate the announcement.
“It’s been a long road, and it’s about time,” 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 I can tell you, we cannot fly the plane without this safety expertise and support of flight attendants.”
Sarah Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said congressionally mandated studies found flight attendants had an 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.
The change is only an hour, but retired flight attendant and representative for the Association of Flight Attendants Kim Guillory-Odunlami said the change is a start in the right direction.
“This is going to be a game changer for the crew members,” she said. “And I will say this: At some point, we have to start looking more for the needs and the quality of life for our human capital and not for capital gain. This one hour, while it is not really what we’re fighting for, certainly is going to be a historical and a monumental decision.”
She explained how crew rest works: “Crew rest does not start once you arrive at the hotel, crew rest starts once you deplane the aircraft, so you are literally, during your crew rest, walking through the airport, going to the hotel shuttles, checking in for your hotel. Prior to even getting to your room, your crew rest has already begun. So while it appears to be nine solid hours, it is not. It typically comes down to being anywhere from six to seven hours. And that is just inhumane. Something has to change. And we’re hoping that the FAA’s decision, we’ll do that this morning.”
Airlines for America — a trade group representing major airlines — previously estimated implementing the rule would cost nearly a billion dollars over 10 years.
But in a statement today, the group said, “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.”
Travel experts telling NewsNation the change is largely symbolic, as many airlines already complied before the FAA’s announcement.
“It’s an acknowledgement of the difficult few years that flight attendants have had, dealing with unruly passengers in the pandemic,” Ethan Klapper, a reporter The Points Guy Aviation, said to NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” Wednesday.
And you just have to look to the viral videos to see some of what flight attendants were up against. The FAA data shows unruly passenger investigations soared in 2021.
Although they’ve fallen since the mask mandate ended, investigations are still now higher than they ever were before the pandemic.
Experts also emphasize the importance of flight attendants doing their emergency duties while on their a-game, pointing to their role in helping save lives in the 2009 miracle on the Hudson — when Captain Sully Sullenberger landed a plane on Hudson River in New York, sending all passengers and crew home safely.
“They are there to evacuate a plane in 90 seconds or less. They are there to provide first aid in the event of some sort of medical emergency,” Klapper said.
“If crew members aren’t rested, it jeopardizes the safety of passengers and other crew members aboard a plane,” Guillory-Odunlami added.
“I believe that the American people can see the human side of crew members. We are mothers, we are wives, we are fathers and we have a quality of life. And the bottom line is it is for the safety of the passengers,” she said.
The final rule will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
NewsNation affiliate The Hill contributed to this report.