Flight Attendant Stories: Airline Call In Sick Policies Are Kinda Bullshit

On the last trip I worked — over the Christmas/Hannukah holiday — I worked with a flight attendant who came to work sick. Billy was more than sick, he looked like he was about to die.

When we initially met for our flight attendant briefing he stated, “I haven’t been feeling well, but I am taking medicine to get better.”

I immediately backed away. He laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. “Don’t be offended but I’m going on vacation next week and I can’t be getting sick.”

During that first flight, he did not do well. He went downhill pretty fast. We were flying from Somewhere, USA to Anywhere,USA and after he couldn’t finish his service — and I stepped in to complete it — I suggested he take a moment in the lavatory to freshen up.

He called me in the back galley, “Should I call in sick? I’m not doing well.”

“Yes. If you are sick you should call in. You shouldn’t work when you are sick.”

“Will I get in trouble for it? Will I get a mark for calling in sick?”

I thought this to be an odd question. He had only been with the airline for about 6 months, but anyone should know that if they call in over a holiday — especially during the Christmas/Hanukkah combo — the airline will not be pleased. I responded, “Well it’s Christmas so they’re going to document this in your file.”

He didn’t like that answer, but I don’t make the rules — I just regurgitate them up when someone asks me.  

I spent most of the flight in the back galley away from his germs. My plans of sailing, fishing, and drinking in Florida the first week of January were in danger of being compromised if I spent any time around his darkened circled eyes. 

Halfway through the flight, the pilots had to come out to use the lavatory. I went into the flight deck, which on this small airplane is about the size of the closet Harry Potter lived in under the stairs. Actually, I think his closet was bigger. To be honest, in my nine years at this airline, I have only gone up into that flight deck once. It’s so claustrophobic and uncomfortable that when you exit it through the door you feel like the airplane is giving birth to you. This is not an exaggeration. Anyone who has ever worked on an Embraer airplane knows what I am talking about. I’ve met Brazilians and they are not that fucking small. What were those South Americans thinking? I expect any skinny pilot working in that flight deck with a fat one must feel as confined as Princess Leia did (RIP Carrie Fisher) chained to Jabba The Hut.

Now you may ask why I went up into this teeny tiny work space? I have a good reason. I was being nice because the flight attendant I was working with did not want to go up there, and also I didn’t want him to spread his germs all over the flight deck. See — I was looking out for the pilots (Take note guys, not all flight attendants hate you).

In the flight deck, I shared with the first officer that Billy was sick and that I encouraged him to call in sick when we got back to Somewhere. His eyes perked up, “Do you think he can make it back? Maybe he should just call in when we land in Anywhere.”

I didn’t like where this was going. I responded, “I think he’ll be fine. He said he can make the flight back. I don’t want to get stuck in Anywhere tonight.” I really didn’t want my trip being hijacked and having to spend the night in Anywhere. Honestly, I fucking HATE Anywhere. 

“If he calls in and our flight gets cancelled I won’t have to work my trip tomorrow.”

Are you kidding me? This asshat wanted to sabotage our flight back — fucking up MY trip — so that he could get out of his trip the next day? I swear to Xenu, some of these pilots fell on their head while doing the walk around. What’s the walk around? That’s when they walk around the airplane to make sure nobody messed with it. Sometimes I think a few of them dinged their head on the wing or something, because how fucking selfish is that?

After I squeezed myself out of the flight deck to let the captain back in, back into the flight deck to let the first officer out, and then back out into the galley (HOLY FUCK I AM CONFUSED) when the first officer was done in the lavatory, I asked Billy, “Do you think you can make it back to Somewhere?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna work the flight back. I don’t want to get stuck in Anywhere.”

“Good. Neither do I,” I stated. At least we were both on the anywhere is better than Anywhere anytime page.

When we landed in Anywhere (I am so confused. PS — I am not high while writing this) I called the front galley, “Don’t forget to call in so they can get you a replacement when we get back to Somewhere.” Our trip was three flights that night and after we landed back in Somewhere, we had one more leg to Over There. 

He answered, “I’m not calling in sick. I don’t want to get in trouble.”

I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t force him to call in sick, but I also don’t think people who are sick should work. I am a firm believer that if your ass is sick — your ass should be home. Not coughing all over me and the passengers. 

Which got me thinking about airlines and their call in sick policies. And here’s what I think… they are fucking bullshit. Listen, I completely understand that airlines have to have policies in place to protect flights so they are not cancelled. Canceling a flight with 250 passengers on it because you don’t have flight attendants does not look good in the news. And airlines only want to be in the news for positive stories — not stories like cancelling flights due to under staffing or leaving passengers stuck in an airplane for seven hours on the tarmac in the dead of winter.

But there has to be something put in place to protect the flight attendants and the passengers. Airline sick call policies force flight attendants to work when they are sick. The End. There’s an argument of — well if they don’t abuse their sick calls they will have them available when they really need them. Again, complete and utter bullshit. If the average desk job person gets sick 4 times a year you can bet your Trump ass that flight attendants get sick more than that. Why Trump’s ass? Because I made up that statistic while I was typing away. I have no proof that’s how many people get sick in a year and I honestly don’t care. This is the new America – where facts don’t mean shit.

So, back to my story, if a flight attendant is forced to work while they are sick (airlines will argue that’s not the case as they sign the termination paperwork) then does that mean — and here’s where shit gets interesting — if I come to work healthy, work with someone who is sick and afraid to call in for fear of getting in trouble, and then I get sick, is that considered an on the job injury?

Great question, right? Personally, I think it absofuckinlutely is an OJI. Why? Because that shit happened at work. If a flight attendant reports to work healthier than Magic Johnson (How the fuck is he still alive?) on a high T cell count day, and by the end of the shift is sick — because of a coworker — that’s not the heathly flight attendants fault. If I come to work with both legs working and then fall out of the open airplane door and break a leg — that’s an on the job injury. I kinda/somewhat/most definitely feel that catching a cold from someone is the same thing.

Of course this would be hard to prove. A broken leg OJI is much more substantial and easy to document than say — catching a fever and cough from the lead flight attendant. I understand that, but it should give you something to think about. People should not be afraid to call in sick to work if they are actively sick. Not only are they endangering their coworkers, but they are also endangering passengers.

Food for though.