Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PBair female flight attendant at work on board...Image via Wikipedia Pete Roma On Behalf of the Flight Attendant
Field Study Project Team

Peter G. Roma, Ph.D.Associate Director, Human Performance Laboratory Institutes for Behavior Resources Baltimore, MD, USA

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Division of Behavioral Biology Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Baltimore, MD, USA

Greetings Friends,

If you received this email, then you are among the many dedicated US-based Flight Attendants who contributed to the recent Flight Attendant Work/RestPatterns, Alertness, and Performance Assessment field study project conducted by the Institutes for Behavior Resources.

It is indeed Fall here on the East Coast, and I've heard from a few of you who were curious about the results, so the purpose of this letter is to update you on the status of the project and distribution of the report(s).

After over a year of continuous data collection, we received the last of the equipment from our final study participant in June 2010, and following an extraordinary data processing and analysis effort, we submitted a draft report to the FAA for Congress in July. The FAA was so struck by our findings that they immediately submitted the unedited report to the US Congress.

The bottom line is that you're ALL fatigued before you even start work! To determine this, we took all those reaction time tests you did and calculated the average of your top 10% performances as a "best you can do" baseline. We then compared that optimal baseline to your average Pre-Work and Post-Work test performances, so the question we answered for each person was "How did you do before and after work compared to your very best performance?" Of the 200+ people who did the study, not one of you showed up for work at 100%. As expected, there were some effects of Seniority (senior vs. Mid vs. Junior) and Flight Ops (Domestic vs. Int'l), and we're now working with the data to determine what are the strongest predictors of performance deficits (such as length of duty day, trip length, time in hotel, # days off between trisect.). Of course these findings are no surprise to you (or me at this point), but the FAA and certainly Congress did not realize how pervasive fatigue was in cabin crew.

At this point, the report is being processed and formatted by the FAA for conversion into an official government Office of Aerospace Medicine (OAM) Technical Report. Of course, because the FAA is a big machine, it takes time to get something like this through, but it will be publicly available upon completion and approval. As soon as the official public report is released, I’ll make sure you all have access to it. In the meantime (although Improbably shouldn't do this), I've pasted a copy of the report's Abstract below, which is a one-paragraph summary of the results to hold you over:

Impaired vigilant attention and cognitive performance induced by fatigue may compromise safety in 24-hr operational environments, including commercial aviation. Given the direct role flight attendants play in managing passenger safety and the increasing demands on this segment of the civilian workforce, the US Congress ordered a comprehensive examination of fatigue in cabin crew, including policy reviews, a large-scale survey, and a field study of actual flight operations.

The present report provides an overview of the field study results, focusing on objective measures of sleep/wake patterns (via continuous autography) and neurocognitive performance (Psychomotor Vigilance Test [PVT] before and after sleep and work) over a 3-4 week period in 202 US-based flight attendants of all seniority levels working for network, low-cost, and regional carriers embarking on domestic and international flight operations.

On average, flight attendants slept 6.3 hyper sleep episodes on days off and 5.7 hr on work days, fell asleep 29 ministers going to bed, awoke four times per sleep episode, and spent 77% of each episode actually sleeping. After statistically controlling for any effects of reserve status, gender, and age, junior level flight attendants(vs. mid and senior) had the shortest sleep latencies during their days offhand flight attendants working international operations slept significantly less per episode (4.9 hr vs. 5.9 hr) and less efficiently (75% vs. 79%)during work trips compared to their colleagues working domestic operations.

In terms of performance, all flight attendants exhibited significant impairments during pre-work PVT test sessions when compared to their own optimum baseline performance (mean of top 10% PVT sessions), including a 21%increase in reaction times, a 14% decrease in response speed, and 3 more lapses on average.

Across the workday (i.e., pre-work to post-work PVTsessions), regional flight attendants committed fewer premature PVTresponses than both their network and low-cost counterparts, junior level participants produced significantly higher post-work reaction times than their senior level colleagues, and those working international flights produced better pre-work reaction times but a greater increase in lapses across the workday than flight attendants working domestic operations.

These objective data are consistent with other shift-work research and echo subjective survey findings of ubiquitous fatigue across the US-based flight attendant community. Broad factors such as carrier type, seniority, and flight operations are clearly relevant to flight attendant sleep/wake and performance patterns, and additional follow-up reports on the field study dataset will provide more detailed analyses that identify and assess the precise operational variables that contribute to fatigue in professional cabin crew.

As research scientists, what we did was provide objective behavioral performance data which apparently support the survey data and other opinion-based evaluations of the fatigue issue in cabin crew. As you know, this was no small task for any of us on the research side or on Flight Attendant side, but still a critically important step towards the rest of the world taking the concerns of the Flight Attendant community seriously--it's hard for anyone to argue with hard data.

Only time will tell if any policy changes are made to improve safety and quality of life for cabin crew, but no matter what happens, you should all be proud for making appositive contribution to your profession, and we thank you again for your efforts and dedication to the project.

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