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At least 100 American Airlines flight attendants have contracted the coronavirus. Some are sounding the alarm over shortages of personal protective equipment.

David Slotnick   

At least 100 American Airlines flight attendants have contracted the coronavirus. Some are sounding the alarm over shortages of personal protective equipment.
American Airlines Boeing 767
  • At least 100 American Airlines flight attendants have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to their union.
  • The diagnoses come as some of the airline's flight attendants, who spoke with Business Insider complain of shortages of protective equipment like gloves, or disinfecting wipes.
  • While the airline has not previously supplied flight attendants with masks, it said it expected to receive a shipment of them this week, and would begin distributing them to flight crews.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

At least 100 flight attendants for American Airlines have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, the flight attendants' union has said.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), an independent union which represents American's 27,000 cabin crew, confirmed to Business Insider that 100 of its members had been diagnosed with the virus as of Saturday.

One of those flight attendants, 65-year-old Paul Frishkorn, died of complications from the virus late last month. He was the first flight attendant in the US to die from COVID-19.

Numerous flight attendants for American and other airlines previously told Business Insider that they were not worried about the illness and said that they had plenty of protective equipment and disinfectant. But some American Airlines cabin crew have told Business Insider that they've recently seen shortages of supplies.

"That is no longer happening consistently," one American Airlines flight attendant said. "Although extra supplies have been promised to us, they aren't showing up on the plane every time. Sometimes the extra box of gloves is there, sometimes not. Sometimes 2-3 containers of sanitary wipes are provided, sometimes none. Sometimes there are no gloves at all."

The flight attendant, along with others who spoke with Business Insider, requested anonymity due to the airline's media policy.

Other flight attendants who spoke with Business Insider said they had noticed low levels of supplies on some flights, and had taken to purchasing and bringing their own, while others said they had not encountered any shortages.

"We have consistently advocated for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all of our Flight Attendants to be available on every aircraft, for social distancing between passengers and crew jump seats, for thermal scanning in the airports, and to receive immediate notification of Flight Attendants who have tested positive for the virus," Julie Hendrick, the union's national president, said in a statement.

"Flight Attendants are aviation's first responders who are transporting medical personnel and supplies into COVID-19 hotspots, and they need to be treated and protected as such."

American had initially instructed flight attendants not to wear masks during flights, but in recent weeks has allowed them to wear masks in "neutral colors," a flight attendant said.

A spokesperson for the airline told Business Insider that while it had been difficult to source masks due to surging demand and a limited global supply, it expected to receive a supply of 140,000 surgical masks by the end of the week, and would allow crew members to wear them during "all phases of flight, regardless of destination."

The airline also set forth guidelines surrounding mask use to flight crews, including instructions on how to safely remove them.

The spokesperson said that the airline had also secured a new supply of hand sanitizer, and was in the process of distributing it to bases for crewmembers to take.

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the airline industry, as demand for both international and domestic travel has plummeted amid border closures, calls for social distancing, and stay-at-home orders. Airlines have slashed flight schedules and grounded planes, maintaining a minimum level of connectivity.

Airlines receiving funds under the federal bailout package, the CARES Act, are prohibited from laying off or furloughing employees through the end of September, but the downturn within the industry means that airline employees are, in general, only being paid for the minimum number of monthly work hours in their contracts - less than many generally work in a month.

With the crisis expected to linger for airlines at least into 2021, and amid expectations that airlines will need to downsize, layoffs and furloughs after September remain a possibility.

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