The first government shutdown impacted federal employees like those of TSA and FAA, which forced many to work for no pay. Currently, a second shutdown looms in sight, and many in the travel industry are imploring lawmakers to not let it happen, especially flight attendants.
Flight attendants are not federal employees, but like passengers, their safety and jobs were directly affected by the government shutdown, so explained Sara Nelson, the President of the Association of Flight Attendants—CWA.
In an opinion piece on USA Today, Sara Nelson who is a 23-year flight attendant, says: “The shutdown put our lives and livelihoods in danger, risked the safety of everyone who flies, and threatened our entire economy.” It sets to the tone for the rest of the piece.
Nelson shares a chilling story she heard from many flight attendants during the government shutdown. Typically, airline pilots have a “sterile cockpit” during takeoff and landing, “when no communication is permitted between the cabin and flight deck. This is to allow pilots to focus on the most difficult, and task-intensive, parts of the flight.”
However, during the shutdown, many pilots didn’t follow this procedure, instead telling flight attendants that “they were so concerned that the shutdown had compromised security screening, they felt the need to alter safety procedures so they could be informed immediately if there were a security issue in the cabin.”
As Nelson infers – if your pilots and flight attendants are breaking protocol to ensure the safety of passengers, something is wrong, and that “something” is the government shutdown.
While the shutdown was temporarily lifted, the U.S. is now faced with a second shutdown and this is something that Nelson says the travel industry cannot handle.
She writes, “Things will only get worse if the shutdown continues into day 36 this Saturday, the deadline for Washington to keep our government open with stable funding.”
There may be some that ask why Nelson and flight attendants care so much about a second government shutdown.
She explains, “Flight attendants are not federal workers, and people have asked why we are so involved in this fight. Aviation doesn’t work without federal workers. Air travel is a fully integrated operation that relies on government and private industry working together. When any link in this chain breaks down, the whole system suffers.”
“Many of the people who keep our airports and our planes safe were forced to work more than a month without pay, and others were locked out completely,” she says, making sure to highlight how these individuals suffered enormously in terms of their financial lives.
AFA Pres. @FlyingWithSara delivers passionate demand to @GOP
“This is about our safety, & security, & our jobs, & our entire country’s economic stability… Leader McConnell, you can fix this today… This is not a political game. Open the government today.”pic.twitter.com/oChAAmmRlO
Nelson points out that the stress of the federal employees in the travel industry who didn’t get paid, directly affected their work which primarily relates to making sure that air travel is safe and secure for all.
“Take air traffic controllers. On a normal day, these professionals have jobs so stressful that they’re required to retire at 56,” Nelson wrote, adding “A controller at Chicago O’Hare may be responsible for as many as 5,000 lives at any time. There is no room for error.”
But the government shutdown that lasted 35 days was not a normal time period for air traffic controllers. Already working in a stressful environment, they now had the added stress of figuring out how to pay for daycare, rent or even eat.
She added, “Similarly, I spoke to transportation security officers who couldn’t even afford gas to get home or back to work, so they slept in their cars between shifts. Some simply couldn’t afford to stay on the job, leading to long check-in lines — and the overall stress increased the risk of a security breach, endangering all of us.”
And it all goes back to safety: “Most Federal Aviation Administration staff who conduct safety inspections of planes were furloughed, leaving critical gaps in safety. If these workers are locked out again, there will be a higher chance of issues such as mechanical failures, planes grounded and flights canceled because aircraft can’t get certified,” she said.
“Many people were just furloughed…others were told they had to come to work but weren’t going to get pay…These are people essential for our safety & security.” – @FlyingWithSara https://t.co/32lXmtuLJ6 #NoDay36#LockoutNeverAgain pic.twitter.com/rGM9g2lIV0
According to Nelson, before the government shutdown, “the FAA was rolling out new equipment to prevent incidents where a plane takes off or lands in the wrong place — incidents that happen at least twice a day and cause too many near misses.”
The shutdown put this equipment on hold and even though the government shutdown was alleviated, the agencies didn’t finish putting it in place for fear of another shutdown.
Nelson doesn’t believe the travel industry can afford another shutdown and fears a serious incident if one occurs again, and this is why she, and other flight attendants, are speaking out.
“It is immoral to put American lives in danger with reckless political games,” she says.
“There is bipartisan support to keep the government open with stable, long-term funding. Americans overwhelmingly support this solution. But if Congress ignores the will of the American people and take us to Day 36 of the shutdown, flight attendants will not risk the lives of our colleagues and our passengers.”
Flight attendants take their job and it’s safety concerns seriously, and always have, for as Nelson puts it: “Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders and the last line of defense. We take our responsibility seriously. That’s why, through our unions, we’ve fought to ban smoking on planes, to keep knives out of the cabin and so much more. Now, we are once again standing up for safety.”
If the government shutdown does occur again? Nelson says the American people are not powerless.
“We have a duty to protect ourselves and the American people from the danger. Working people have power when we come together. If Congress chooses the chaos of a continued lockout, we will use that power,” she says.
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