It was announced earlier this week that the rules for flight attendant rest would change to require more time in between shifts. This might sound like yet another burden on already-challenged airline scheduling plans, but it’s not. This rule has been coming for so long that most if not all airlines have already complied.
Starting 30 days from when the final rule is published in the Federal Register, the rest period between flight attendant shifts will be increased. Today it is supposed to be 9 hours between shifts, but that can be reduced to 8 hours which is not much time.
Keep in mind that for a flight attendant, the time going to and from a hotel is usually considered part of the rest period, so getting to the hotel, checking in, changing clothes, and eating during an 8 hour rest does not leave much time for actual sleep. This is why the unions waged a lengthy campaign to have the rules changed to match what pilots have, 10 hours between shifts. Now they have it, and it is a big win. It’s just not really a new win.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) press release is entitled “Biden-Harris Administration Extends Rest Periods for Flight Attendants” which makes it sound like this is a new initiative by this administration. It’s not. In fact, this was laid out in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 passed by Congress long before Biden was in office.
The thing is, the Trump administration wasn’t a fan of this, so despite the Act requiring the rule change to go into effect within 30 days, the DOT under that administration delayed it in any way it possibly could. According to an interview with Sara Nelson (via Travel Weekly) in 2019, she…
…blamed the DOT’s delayed action to increase the rest-time minimum, in part, on the Trump administration’s policy that two regulations be eliminated for every one that is added. In addition, she said that the DOT explicitly opposed the minimum rest-time extension ahead of its passage by Congress.
This led to multiple rounds of rulemaking and comment requests from the public as a way to justify ignoring what Congress passed. But now, here we are about 3.5 years later and it is finally going into effect thanks to the DOT not throwing up any further obstacles.
This sounds like just the kind of thing that will make airline scheduling even more difficult. With all kinds of labor shortages, this means airlines will feel more pressure now that they have to give more rest to flight attendants. They’ll need to hire more. Except, most of them won’t.
This has been like watching a steamroller slowly roll toward you for over 3 years. Unlike in Austin Powers, the airlines decided to get out of the way before it became a mandate.
I reached out to several airlines, and American, Delta, Southwest, and United told me this is already their policy, so there is no impact. I’m not sure when American’s or United’s changes went into effect, but Southwest began complying on July 1 of this year. And Delta did it even early, in early 2020.
Delta is an airline that was rumored to be fighting against the change since it is non-union and has more flexibility in general. But, Delta had previously denied that to be the case, and it put the rule into action long ago so that’s really a non-issue. The airline even went beyond, according to a spokesperson…
Delta implemented a 10-hour rest rule in 2020, before FAA’s mandate, and we have also increased ‘behind the door’ rest to 9 hours. We consistently go above and beyond to care for our people, and we are happy to hear that the new rule will apply across the industry and ensure flight crews at other airlines receive the rest they need to keep our skies safe.
That 9 hours “behind the door” means behind the hotel room door, so it’s guaranteed time in the room.
You’re probably wondering about the regionals since they’ve been such a big source of pain this year due to crew shortages. I asked the biggest regionals if they have already adjusted or not, and so far, they have. SkyWest tells me the airline made the move back in January 2020, and if this is correct, then American’s regional PSA has already done it as well. Piedmont has confirmed to me it has already changed. If I hear back from others saying they have not yet complied, I will update here.
The reality here is that if an airline hasn’t begun complying by now, then the person running this area has made a very bad bet and has now officially lost. This has been in progress for years, and waiting was not going to do anything except make it harder to switch when the time came. Fortunately, I have yet to come across a single airline that hasn’t already complied.
“This has been like watching a steamroller slowly roll toward you for over 3 years. Unlike in Austin Powers, the airlines decided to get out of the way before it became a mandate.
Cue Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova.”
This is good as we all understand just how important sleep is for daily functioning.
This rule makes some decent sense, as even with the new 10-hour rule, by the time one allows for transit to/from the hotel, basic hygiene (shower etc) and a quick bite of food, it may be hard in some locations for crew to spend even 8 hours in bed.
I’m not sure what the federal/union/airline policies and rules are when it comes to consistency of sleep schedules for pilots and F/As, and those are much harder to define and regulate (at least from a legal perspective, maybe not a circadian one), but those are definitely another area of concern when it comes to people who work differing shifts and/or who are on call/standby, whether in law enforcement, health care, or transportation…
It’s not easy to “shift” one’s circadian rhythm and sleep schedule from (say) waking up at 4 am one day (or week) to waking up at 11 am (let alone 4 pm) the next day or week, at least not while still maintaining alert.
Give a flight crew member a bag of gold, they’ll complain how heavy it is.
I learned well the part about circadian rhythm when I was trucking.
That’s one of the areas where truckers are really pushing back against the new rules on e-logs, and updated rules/enforcement on hours of service and rest breaks.
Many truckers are arguing that the rules are forcing them to drive while tired and take breaks while they are alert, with little consideration for their circadian rhythms. It’s tough to find a balance that allows people the freedom to adjust for their own internal body clocks and needs while also preventing them (or their employers or customers) from pushing themselves too hard and endangering others.
While this will not hamper current scheduling, it *will* place new limits on what airlines can do during irregular operations. This is where the impact will be felt. If they’re scheduling the rest down to the minimums, that means coming into the hotel 3 hours late because of a snow delay means the next morning’s flight also leaves 3 hours late.
I know the airline flacks will spin this as “no big deal,” but it will certainly have effects on availability of crew during irrops, which is where the majority of abusive and predatory management behavior takes place. Many flight attendants have similar rest “protections” in their contracts that the company would gleefully violate (“solve the operational crisis now, deal with the grievance later” mentality). Now there is a LAW protecting those rest rules, and it’s a bit harder to routinely violate the law than it is to deal with post-facto compensatory payouts for labor contract violations.
This almost certainly will have even bigger effects on regionals, who are considerably more flagrantly abusive to flight attendants than mainline.
I think minimum rest should be no less than 10 hours from CHECK IN time at Hotel to CHECK OUT time at Hotel to allow time for a meal and (hopefully) adequate sleep as well as time to shower and get cleaned up and morning meal.
Unless things have changed in the last few years regional crews typically stick together for an entire trip, so flight attendants effectively get the higher rest requirements of their pilots. This may impact a few corner cases, but it shouldn’t be many at all.