New FAA rules: flight attendants are entitled to a minimum of 10 hours of rest!

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Airlines will have to give flight attendants at least 10 hours of rest between shifts, the same time as pilots, under a new rule announced Tuesday by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The announcement of the extra hour's rest comes after a trying two-and-a-half years for flight attendants, who have dealt with a sharp rise in incidents of unruly passengers during the pandemic, including a growing number of verbal and physical assaults .

Current rules require airlines to give flight attendants at least nine hours of rest between shifts, but it can be as much as eight hours in certain circumstances. Factoring in travel time to and from airports and overnight accommodation, this can leave flight attendants operating on just five or six hours of sleep.

"I can tell you firsthand that well-rested crew members are important to safety," said FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen, a former airline pilot, announcing the signing of the new rule at a news conference at Reagan National in Washington, DC Airport.

"As any pilot can tell you, we can't fly an airplane without the safety expertise and support of our flight attendants," Nolen added. “Flight attendants are trained to take action during emergencies, administer first aid, carry out evacuations and manage medical emergencies. And as we have seen, they are on the front lines with unruly passengers who could threaten the safety of the flight and other passengers,” he said.

Nelson says that studies of fatigue and health "determined that not only was fatigue rife in our ranks, but lack of rest contributed to health problems," including increased risk of cancer as well as heart and respiratory problems.

Nelson says the pandemic has significantly increased stress and fatigue among flight attendants, noting that they "have to deal with longer days and shorter nights with reduced schedules throughout this pandemic and also with all the combative passengers with that they had to face."

While some regional airlines face shortages of flight attendants as well as pilots and support staff, the new rule is not expected to stretch airline staff so thin that it leads to flight delays and cancellations. Airlines in the industry have ramped up hiring over the past year to meet rising demand for air travel.

The new 10-hour rest rule takes effect in 90 days and comes as several airlines, including American, Southwest and United, are in the midst of negotiating new union contracts with their flight attendants.

Flight attendant unions have lobbied for increased rest time for decades, but were left out of legislation that increased the minimum rest time for pilots several years ago.

Congress eventually mandated that the FAA develop a regulation to increase the minimum rest time for flight attendants in the 2018 reauthorization act, but the Trump administration never did. The Biden administration proposed the new rule last fall, with the FAA citing reports that there is "the potential for fatigue to be associated with poor performance of safety and security duties."

In public comments on the proposal, the group Airlines for America, which represents the seven largest U.S. airlines, said the 10-hour rest requirement could significantly increase labor and training costs and cost its members over $750 million over 10 years.

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