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COVID-19 Safety Strategy

Date: October 30, 2020

This week we will address some ways to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.  This is the first of a two-part series: “keeping yourself safe” and “keeping us safe.”

The first part which we cover this week is “keeping yourself safe” and includes that which each of us can do in the workplace to protect ourselves.  The second part, for next week, includes many of the things we believe United Airlines has the responsibility to do to keep us safe every time we come to work.

Keeping Yourself Safe During COVID-19

We are out on the front-lines every day supporting our country through the essential service we provide. Let’s not forget that.

It is important for each of us to practice safety measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19, not only for our own health and safety, but equally important for our co-workers and passengers. Safety practices are nothing new to our profession.  They are at the core of what we do as safety professionals and first responders.  Adding this new complexity of virus safety has been confusing and challenging at times, but we’ve successfully incorporated these into our daily routines. 

As we move into the fall, and winter, where we anticipate an increase of virus spread, it is critically important to both our health and the success of United Airlines that we continue to be vigilant and not become complacent.

First and foremost:

  • Wear a mask or approved face covering
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
  • Whenever possible, practice social distancing
  • Wear United approved face shields or safety glasses if you feel the need to protect your eyes
  • Advocate for your safety by clearly communicating with your crew prior to each flight the mutual expectations for mask compliance and safety during your briefings

Each of these are essential in containing the further spread of the virus. At the same time, it is also important for each of us to recognize, given the return to some level of normalcy in the daily activities both where we live and work, that maintaining social distancing may not always be under our complete control.  In order to safely navigate these changing circumstances, situational awareness is key and vigilance toward essential health practices is important.

We need to understand, try as we might, we may not always be able to keep the desired distance in grocery stores or shopping malls, when riding on public bus and/or trains, including those public transportation vehicles that bring us from either our home or the parking lot to the terminal buildings.  While it may not always be possible to practice complete social distancing, while utilizing crew transportation or public transportation on layovers, we do expect strong and reasonable efforts be made to keep us as safe as possible (more on that in the next article). Sacrificing our health or safety for convenience or cost is not an acceptable trade-off.

The advice and guidance from the CDC are invaluable in providing direction on how we can best protect ourselves when faced with these situations:

  • Wear a face covering that covers your nose and mouth.
  • Limit contact with frequently touched surfaces as much as possible. 
  • If you must touch these surfaces, as soon as you can, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or rub your hands with sanitizer containing 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid crowded spaces when possible, especially at transit stations and stops.
  • Consider skipping a row of seats between yourself and other riders, if possible.
  • Enter and exit buses through rear entry doors, if possible.
  • After you leave the transit station or stop, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • When you arrive at your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

In our workplace, we can adhere to and help enforce the CDC recommended guidelines and United policies in accordance with the direction we’ve already been given.

We should wear our mask from the parking lot/public transit all the way through our duty day until we are inside our hotel room.  We need to wear our mask effectively, covering both our mouth and nose while being cognizant of the time and exposure considerations when we need to remove it to eat or drink.  

We should kindly and compassionately encourage/remind our co-workers who may forget for a moment about proper mask etiquette to help them avoid getting into any conflict with United’s clear policy on mask wearing while on duty. If an unavoidable conflict does arise, you should contact your local EAP / Professional Standards committee to help assist with the issue.  This keeps the issue with AFA and/or the other Unions on United property.

One thing to remember, the pilots have a unique ability to determine “Safety of Flight” decisions.  This allows them a mask exception when they are in the flight deck with the door closed. This allows the pilot flying and communicating to determine if a mask impedes their ability to safely operate.  Because of this, a pilot may not have a mask on when the Flight Attendant enters the flight deck if they have determined that it may impede communications or their vision while operating.  For this reason, as Safety Professionals, we should protect ourselves when we are required to enter the flight deck during flight.  You can do this by utilizing the N-95 mask (PPE) provided to us for our safety.  Do not rely on someone else doing the right thing for you, we should each protect ourselves whenever accessing the flight deck by ensuring we have placed a N-95 mask on prior to entering especially if you have any concerns.  This can serve to relieve any concerns of a pilot who feels they are unable to wear a mask inflight while on the flight deck.

Also, do not be afraid to politely and professionally ask the pilot(s) if they would put a mask on for your safety.  We can communicate that we desire for them to do so, however, we cannot mandate that they comply with our request.  Of course, the best place to figure all this out is during the pre-flight briefing.  Remember, we are on the same team and crew.  Discuss with the pilots what their intentions are, and ask questions to be sure everyone is on the same page.  In an ideal world, both pilots and Flight Attendants wear their masks for the entire flight, but we do have tools available if the circumstances require otherwise.

We should follow United’s direction to us on politely requesting passenger mask compliance and work to build a bridge of cooperation and empathy with any passengers who need extra encouragement while remaining firm in upholding United’s standards and policies.

As you know, United’s policy is that passengers are required to wear a face covering while on the airplane for the duration of the flight and when in the United portion of any airport we serve, at every step from check-in to baggage claim.  They may remove their mask while actively eating and drinking, but then must promptly replace it.  

Using the above CDC guidelines, we can apply these safety measures both on and off the aircraft as well.  

While on layover, be aware of surfaces you may need to touch while transiting the airport, doors, elevators and crew transportation.  Carry hand-sanitizer with you to “touch up” when needed.  

Consider using responsible disinfection of your hotel room: light switches, door handles, television remote, lamps and other surfaces.  While going overboard isn’t necessary, taking basic precautions for an environment that has been outside of your control is a responsible effort.

There is no single action that will protect us and keep us healthy. It’s the combination of being aware of our surroundings, following the measured guidelines of the CDC and the consistent and proper use of available personal protective equipment (PPE). Through these tips and guidelines, we offer additional guidance on how to stay safe and healthy when presented with less than desirable social distancing opportunities.

This coming Tuesday, we’ll publish part 2 of this update, where we discuss what we need United Airlines to do, to keep us safe.

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