You cant look online, or switch on the TV without seeing or hearing something about the COVID-19 outbreak – but what about the Coronavirus and Cabin Crew?
An aircraft is an incubator for germs as it is, with everyone on board breathing the same, recycled air. There’s also no doubt that the viral outbreak has had an adverse effect on airline travel, with hundreds of flights being delayed and cancelled.
Some of this is precautionary measures on the part of the airlines, limiting travel to and from certain areas where there are known to be mass outbreaks. However many passengers are also choosing to put their travel plans on hold until the situation improves.
How are the major airlines reacting?
Airlines are having to help enforce a constantly changing set of travel restrictions, including prohibitions of people who have traveled to China, and quarantines of other passengers. International flights to Asia and to some destinations in Europe have also been reduced. And it looks likely that even more cuts could be on the way.
This is resulting in a tough time financially for airlines, with the news that Flybe has gone into administration confirming, for some, the effect the Coronavirus spread is having. There were other issues behind the airline’s decline too however, as we discuss in our article on the collapse of Flybe.
An American Airlines crew allegedly refused to operate a New York to Milan flight last week. Flight AA198 from New York to Milan was initially delayed, before being cancelled. The airline later revealed it would be suspending flights to Milan until late April.
American Airlines at first said that the flight was canceled ‘for operational reasons’. However under more pressure they stated:
“The reason for the cancellation was the staff’s decision not to fly due to fears related to coronavirus in Northern Italy. But we can assure you that all passengers will be accommodated on other flights to Milan.”
What practical steps are airlines taking to mitigate the Coronavirus risks?
- Alaska Airlines is suspending its hot towel service in first class and has temporarily stopped onboard recycling to reduce the amount of crew touching passenger-handled materials.
- Passengers are being encouraged to travel with hand santiser or antibacterial wipes to clean arm rests and tray tables.
- Delta have instructed cleaning crews on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights to complete a 19-point checklist – including disinfecting seats, seat-back pockets, tray tables and floors.
- Etihad has asked their cabin crew to consider taking paid leave next month, as a response to falling travel demand and flight restrictions.
- Certain members of crew for Air New Zealand have been asked to ‘self isolate’ for two weeks after it was discovered an infected passenger travelled on a flight from Singapore to Auckland recently.
- The same thing happened on a recent AerLingus flight, which transported a passenger travelling back from Italy – again the crew were required to isolate themselves for two weeks.
In general the advice is common sense, and is essentially the same advice as would be given to prevent the spread of any virus.
- Wash hands regularly
- Identify sick and (potentially infectious) passengers
- Treat all body fluids (like diarrhoea, vomit, or blood) as infectious
- Wear recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks if required
- Clean and disinfect contaminated areas
- Dispose of waste using recommended procedures
- Wear disposable gloves when tending to a sick passenger, touching body fluids or touching potentially contaminated surfaces, such as in bathrooms
There have been confirmed cases of the virus in Cabin Crew, primarily those working for airlines based in countries with large outbreaks. However, there’s no sure way of knowing in these cases if the virus was contracted in flight or elsewhere.
It is frightening, especially when you work in such close contact with the public, and there is so much hype (and scaremongering) in the media. But the best thing to do is be sensible, take precautions and keep an eye out for any symptoms.