Donald Trump's record-setting partial shutdown of the U.S. government — which kept roughly 800,000 federal workers unpaid for more than a month — is finally over. Don't forget to thank your flight attendants.
In the end, no one person or group is solely responsible for making Trump back off the U.S.-Mexico border wall demand that left portions of American society crippled for more than a month. But on the shutdown's 35th day, hours before it finally ended, headlines were dominated by news of disrupted travel plans.
Air travel was one of the many categories of American life impacted by the shutdown. Air traffic controllers are federal workers, and as safety professionals, their work is deemed essential. So they were still putting in their usual hours, but they were doing it without pay.
Flight attendants work for private interests — they're airline employees — but they're also the ones who are most at risk as the infrastructure responsible for keeping planes in the air breaks down. There are Federal Aviation Administration rules requiring flight attendants to be present on planes of a certain size.
In other words: flight attendants may not have been furloughed, but they had what could accurately be described as a vested interest in easing the strain the shutdown placed on air traffic controllers.
The quiet finally broke on Friday. Faced with growing reports of air travel interruptions, representatives from the flight attendant and air traffic controller unions sounded an urgent alarm: fix this immediately or planes are going to start crashing.
Air traffic controllers "are making mistakes that they hadn’t made in the 10, 15, 20 years .... They’re making them because they’re stressed out, because they don’t know when this [shutdown] is going to end."
—Trish Gilbert, National Air Traffic Controllers Assoc.
Via PBS pic.twitter.com/aIBN89GVWo
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 25, 2019
Critical Update on Shutdown: Flight disruptions are starting. The system is unraveling as we had predicted. Watch this update and then get to your nearest congressional office to demand lawmakers open the government. https://t.co/fhLoiLnmfe #EndTheShutdown #StoptheShutdown pic.twitter.com/BBM9pynpcQ
— AFA-CWA (@afa_cwa) January 25, 2019
Hours later, the shutdown was over. It wasn't some bargaining breakthrough brokered by President Trump's fabled acumen as a deal-maker. Rather, it was the country's month-long transformation into trembling, overstuffed pressure cooker.
As many observers pointed out in the hours that followed, the final straw broke across the back of angry, exhausted aviation workers.
Here is the flight attendants' statement today. It is literally the only thing that matters. If you're crediting some rich plutocrat who derides "the lefties" for this shutdown ending, you're doing political analysis wrong.https://t.co/kG43aFdiIT
— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) January 26, 2019
I am so proud of the air traffic controllers, flight attendants, & workers who, through their organizing, should be credited for their role in ending the shutdown.
Dems only have the House (for now), so we must rely on the bravery + organizing of everyday people to push change. https://t.co/4vFzvZ1PrM
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 26, 2019
Dems were glad to watch Trump’s approval rating tank over these last weeks. Trump is not opening gov bc of Pelosi or Stone’s arrest. He’s opening gov because WORKERS shutdown a major US airport. Air traffic controllers, flight attendants & other WORKERS won this fight. https://t.co/f521EMFj4s
— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) January 26, 2019
The temporary end of the shutdown isn't a victory for Nancy Pelosi or any other Democratic elected official. It's a victory for the airport workers who called in sick and threatened to go on strike. They raised the specter of airline chaos and forced Trump's hand.
— Micah Uetricht 🌹 (@micahuetricht) January 25, 2019
Anyway, as a footnote to this particularly miserable chapter of American history, it seems like the union closest to taking things to the next level to stop the shutdown was the Association of Flight Attendants: https://t.co/bxNqwhI9H9
— Matt Pearce 🦅 (@mattdpearce) January 25, 2019
Relieved about the end of the shutdown today?
👊 THANK A #UNION 💪
Thank the @afa_cwa
for mobilizing the #flightattendant force & declaring SAFETY as the urgent drive for #solidarity.https://t.co/pT35FH3yY9
— Michael DeVito Jr. (@mdevitojr) January 25, 2019
Trump couldn’t take another night of air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants on TV saying flying isn’t safe because of the Trump shutdown. https://t.co/iBHTB1Z0xb
— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) January 25, 2019
Here's a final word from Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and absolute boss of this moment.
UPDATED Jan. 26, 2019, 12:31 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified flight attendants as federal workers. Flight attendants work for the airlines, and their shutdown frustrations stem from a declining sense of safety as air traffic controllers increasingly felt the strain of absent paychecks. We apologize for the error, and have updated this story to make the distinction clearer.