Flight Attendants Push for More Rest

DALLAS (AP) -- Flight attendants from the nation's major airlines are lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to require shorter work days and more time off between shifts.

Union officials say financially strapped carriers have been cutting costs by forcing attendants to work longer hours.

''Our folks are exhausted, and we've got to do something about it,'' said Tommie Hutto-Blake, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents attendants at American Airlines, the nation's biggest carrier.

About 60 officials from five unions representing flight attendants at 14 carriers met Wednesday near Dallas to plan their campaign to prod carriers, the FAA and Congress.

Hutto-Blake and other union officials argue that fatigued flight attendants are less alert to potential dangers, including terrorists. They cite the example of flight attendants who joined passengers in stopping a man who tried to light a shoe bomb during an American Airlines flight in 2001.

Last year, Congress approved funds for an FAA study of flight attendant fatigue. The report is due this summer, and the unions hope the FAA findings will pressure carriers to lengthen rest periods and shorten work days.

According to union officials, many carriers schedule some flight attendants for 14-hour work days and the minimum 8-hour break between shifts. At some carriers, more-generous provisions have been scrapped in recent years as several major airlines filed for bankruptcy or came close to it.

At American, flight attendants agreed to stricter work rules in March 2003 as the airline hovered near bankruptcy. Hutto-Blake said attendants have raised the issue with American, but under the 2003 agreement, they might not be able to renegotiate terms until 2008.

Sonja Whitemon, a spokeswoman for American, said the airline has discussed the issue with the union. She said American would follow FAA guidelines.

Attendants at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. negotiated last year to get at least 10 hours of rest overnight and maximum work days of 10 1/2 hours to 12 hours.

''That's actually a short duty day in the industry,'' said Thom McDaniel, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents the Southwest attendants.