Canada’s flight attendants are asking Health Minister Patty Hajdu to consider their job classification for optional early immunization once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved in Canada.

In a letter sent Thursday, Wesley Lesosky, President of the Airline Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), asked Hajdu to recognize the essential role of flight attendants throughout the pandemic, and their working conditions which put them at elevated risk of infection.

For that reason, Lesosky believes flight attendants meet the criteria under the federal government’s Preliminary guidance on key populations for early COVID-19 immunization, and should receive early access if they choose.

“While we want to be clear that at-risk populations and health care workers should receive absolute priority, we also believe flight attendants clearly meet the government’s stated criteria for early immunization,” wrote Lesosky.

Much like other frontline workers in public transit and ferry systems, flight attendants have helped to keep Canada’s essential transportation networks working through the pandemic.

Flight attendants do not have the ability to physically distance in the workplace which, combined with interprovincial and international travel and daily close contact with hundreds of people, puts them at an elevated risk of infection. “We think it is important for the government to acknowledge the fact that flight attendants were some of the first in Canada to encounter and become infected COVID-19 in the workplace,” Lesosky noted.

CUPE’s Airline Division represents over 15,000 flight attendants at nine different airlines across Canada.

Read the full text of Lesosky’s letter here.