American Airlines flight attendant dies of coronavirus, elevating fears in the industry

Paul Frishkorn, a Philadelphia-based American Airlines flight attendant and union representative, has died from coronavirus, the airline confirmed Thursday.

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: American Airlines.

“Earlier this week, we lost a respected, longtime member of the American Airlines family, who tested positive for COVID-19,” a statement from American Airlines released Thursday read. “Our hearts go out to Paul’s loved ones, many of whom work for American.”

Lori Bassani, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents 27,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, said in a statement, “It is with deep sadness we report that one of our own … has passed away from Covid-19.” 

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Frishkorn, 65, was described as a tireless advocate for the flight attendant corps who was spending time in the Philadelphia crew room “answering questions and assisting our members through this difficult time” before he fell ill.

“Paul is the first of our colleagues to lose his life as a result of this deadly virus. We are deeply saddened and are reminded that no precaution is too much to take during this horrible time,” the statement from Bassani said. 

Speaking by phone to USA TODAY, Bassani said that Frishkorn’s death has increased the already deep concern for flight attendants working amid the highly contagious virus.

“When this hits one of your own, it sheds a whole new light on the coronavirus,” said Bassani. “This does spread more fear among our ranks. This is a killer virus, unlike any we have experienced.”

Frishkorn was honored as one of American’s Flight Service Champions twice for his dealings with customers. Tracy Sear, a flight attendant for American Airlines, told CNN that he was a larger-than-life presence who enjoyed figure skating and loved to laugh.

American Airlines announced Tuesday it is implementing new safety measures that begin Friday and last through April 3. The airlines will offer “limited” food and beverage options to further provide for social distancing and minimal contact between flight attendants and customers,”

Passengers can also now switch up their seating arrangements to aid with social distancing and the airlines will “block” all seats adjacent to flight attendant jump seats. For flights less than four and a half hours, no meals or snacks will be served. Beverages will be available “upon request.”

Longer flights will do away with snacks but serve drinks as usual and provide regular meals to passengers in the main cabin. First-class passengers will be given their meals on “one tray versus in courses.”

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