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 flight attendants union confirmed Thursday.

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

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, according to the statement.

“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 said. “Our hearts go out to Paul’s family and loved ones as we grieve the loss of one of our own.”

Coronavirus precautions:Southwest, Delta, American Airlines reduce food, drink services

American Airlines has by far the most debt of any major U.S. airline.

USA TODAY has reached out to American Airlines for further comment.

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.”

Tracy Sear, a flight attendant for American Airlines, told CNN that Frishkorn 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,” the airline said in a press release.

Passengers can 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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