The Way We Work Now

I’m a Flight Attendant. The Airlines Don’t Care Enough About My Health or Yours.

The airline industry’s new safety protocols are merely a placebo to encourage people to fly again

Joan Tierney
Published in
7 min readJul 27, 2020


Photo illustration. Photo: Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua/Getty Images

A morning ritual is a difficult thing to keep up when the world as you know it is falling apart — especially when you work in the airline industry.

I woke up this morning in a hotel, which I typically do three mornings out of the week. I did yoga for 15 minutes, something I’m trying to do more regularly. I made my iced coffee. I took my medication and followed my skin care routine. I put on my uniform and my airline-issued face mask. Then, I went downstairs to take the hotel van to the airport with the rest of my crew.

Except for the face masks, this could have been any of my mornings from last year. But today, on the way to the airport, my first officer announced he’d received his WARN notice from the airline, an alert giving employees a heads up that mass layoffs are likely imminent. This meant that, come October, he will most likely lose his job.

The email was signed: “No matter how this furlough goes, never forget how it felt to be a pilot.” What an epitaph.

I’d always said that people have to travel, and thus I would always have a job. But what I should have considered was: Will people always want to? And, more importantly, will people always be able to?

I was six years old when 9/11 happened and 13 during the 2008 economic crisis. I had no concept of the airline industry — or any industry — then, but I’ve been assured by long-time crew members that the current pandemic’s impact on commercial flying is on par with, if not worse than, both previous crises.

When the Covid-19 virus first began making waves across the ocean, I was in Germany, blisteringly sick. One month later, China began its first quarantine procedures. Three months after that, commercial airlines began requiring crew members to wear face masks. Passengers weren’t required to wear face masks — with exceptions, of course — until weeks later. This week, the airlines will stop accepting mask exemptions completely. I’m sure I don’t have to explain how…