American Airlines Flight Attendant Union President Highlights Safety and Labor Standards in Congressional Testimony
On Wednesday, July 17th, Lori Bassani, President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. APFA represents the more than 28,000 flight attendants of American Airlines, and it is the largest independent flight attendants’ union in the world. This was a historic moment for the union, as it was the first time an APFA president testified before Congress.
The hearing was held by the Subcommittee on Aviation and chaired by Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-2). It was a somber occasion, as the hearing began with testimony from two fathers of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Paul Njoroge and Michael Stumo. The March 10, 2019 flight involved a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane. The plane crash in Ethiopia following a software command that caused the aircraft to pitch down. This accident followed the October 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610, also a 737 MAX. All Boeing 737 MAX 8’s were grounded following the Ethiopia Airlines crash. The two fathers criticized Boeing and the FAA for reckless practices in allowing the plane to fly with software errors and for failing to adequately train pilots to respond to the erroneous commands.
After a recess, the hearing reconvened for a second witness panel that included Ms. Bassani. In her testimony, Ms. Bassani called on the FAA to ensure the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is completely safe before it returns to the skies. She also encouraged the regulatory body to raise flight attendants’ prescribed rest periods from eight to ten hours. This change was mandated in the 2018 FAA reauthorization, but the DOT has delayed implementing the change, despite deadlines having passed.
During the question and answer period, several Congressmembers asked Ms. Bassani questions. In response to a question from Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4) about the ever-declining sizes of passenger seats, Ms. Bassani called the cramped environment of a modern aircraft “a torture chamber for our customers and for us.” As airlines continue to shrink seats and reduce legroom to fit more passengers, not only are the seats less comfortable, but safety risks increase. FAA regulations require planes to be built so that, in the event of an emergency, all passengers can evacuate in 90 seconds, using only half of the exits. With planes more cramped than ever, Ms. Bassani warned, expecting passengers to evacuate in so little time is unreasonable. After the hearing, Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4) met one-on-one with Ms. Bassani to further discuss airline safety and labor standards. All in all, the day was a great opportunity for APFA to highlight its advocacy on behalf of American Airlines’ flight attendants and passengers.