First, know this: your crew doesn’t want to share the contagion any more than you do. And second, the FAA is doing as little as possible to ensure your safe, contagion-free flight. And finally, much of the solution will require a level of passenger compliance that has largely disappeared from today’s flying public. Let me explain.
Congregating is the essence of air travel: boarding, seating, in flight and deplaning are all mass motions by multiple humans, including passengers, staff, and crew. Aircraft manufacturers have crammed as many seats into passenger aircraft as possible and airline schedules demand minimum turnaround time between flights. Simply put, flying is a time-sensitive crowd activity and your crew is part of the crowd. We want to use the best and most protective protocols and procedures, but that depends on both regulation and enforcement: we as crew want to be protected, and to protect you.
Which brings me to my second point: the FAA is deliberately dodging their responsibility to mandate and enforce best practices pandemic mitigation in air travel. The first very lame dodge from the FAA was that they are “not a medical or health organization.” And yet, the FAA mandates medical exams, analysis and waivers for every commercial pilot flying an airliner. The sidestep when confronted with passenger and crew health in the FAA jurisdiction of air travel is a leadership failure at the highest level of the FAA.
And the final point: passengers. Passenger compliance with air crew directives is at an all-time low in the thirty-four years I’ve been an airline pilot. People simply will not be told what to do regardless of regulations designed to protect everyone aboard. What are the chances that passengers will followed new and rigid spacing requirements during boarding and deplaning? And what would be the point anyway, given that after boarding, passengers will sit literally shoulder to shoulder with other passengers anyway?
And for those passengers already demanding the airlines deliberately limit capacity, flying with empty seats: are you ready to pay the higher fare resulting from limited tickets sold on your flight?
Clearly, the answer is threefold, but only two of the critical actions fall on passengers and crew. The first two items are compliance and patience: passengers and crew must adhere to spacing and protective gear requirements, masks must be worn (and, at some airlines regarding crews, masks and gloves must be permitted for crews) by passengers and crew. Compliance cannot be optional, and crew authority must be the final word. No exceptions, no excuses.
But regardless of this very real pandemic threat, the final piece of the puzzle, regulation and enforcement, is presently lost in the bureaucratic and leadership failure of the FAA. So, when it comes to pandemic safety, there’ll be neither FAA regulation nor enforcement, so rest easy.
But when it comes to the spread of the pandemic through air travel, while the FAA remains asleep at the wheel, buyer beware.
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