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Flight attendants fume as CDC gives airlines what they want on quarantine change


A union for flight attendants is accusing the CDC of loosening rules for quarantine after Covid-19 exposure at the behest of the airline industry, as the Omicron variant continues to rage across the globe.

“We said we wanted to hear from medical professionals on the best guidance for quarantine, not from corporate America advocating for a shortened period due to staffing shortages,” said Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson following the CDC announcement shortening the recommended quarantine duration from 10 days to five days.

“The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring,” Nelson said.

And, just days before the CDC announced the change, the airline industry united to press for a shortened quarantine timeframe, saying a 10-day isolation requirement may “exacerbate personnel shortages and create significant disruptions to our workforce and operations.” Indeed, U.S. airlines have had a raft of flight cancellations as the busy holiday travel season crashed into the rise of the virulent Omicron variant.

“As an industry, we stand ready to partner with the CDC to make scientifically sound policy decisions and work with you to collect empirical data necessary to appropriately monitor any guideline modifications,” Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a letter addressed to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

Delta Air Lines, the first to request the change to a five-day quarantine period, also noted that current guidance “was developed in 2020 when the pandemic was in a different phase without effective vaccines and treatments.”

Though their messaging to the administration came to a head last week, airlines have been lobbying to shape Covid-19 quarantine protocols for far longer.

For months, that outreach has cast a wide net, from Congress to the Executive Office of the President. According to publicly available disclosures, Airlines for America — whose members include the largest U.S. airlines as well as cargo giants FedEx and UPS — reported outreach to the CDC, Executive Office of the President, Congress and federal agencies on Covid-19 quarantines, among other issues, during the last three quarters.

Earlier this year, UPS had lobbied Congress and federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, to exempt crew members from quarantine and testing requirements. Hawaiian Airlines and American Airlines also reported outreach to the Executive Office of the President, Congress and federal agencies on a host of issues that included quarantines. Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, which flies a bulk of Amazon’s cargo, and United Airlines lobbied the House and the Senate.

The updated CDC guidance shortened the recommended time for isolation for all people with asymptomatic cases of Covid, vaccinated or not, saying the change was “motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.“ The agency also shortened the quarantine period for people exposed to Covid.

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