Air India Express Employee Operates Flights After Positive COVID-19 Test

An Air India Express crew member was allowed to operate a flight despite testing positive for COVID-19 last month. According to sources, airline officials knew the cabin crew member had tested positive nearly an hour before the flight, yet did nothing to stop them from flying. The crew operated a return domestic flight from Delhi to Madurai on November 13th while infected, raising pressing safety concerns.

Air India Express 737
Airline officials reportedly knew about the infected employee nearly an hour before the flight. Photo: Getty Images

Shocking conduct

According to the Hindustan Times, the incident began with a routine test on November 12th. The crew member was to fly an international sector on the 14th, requiring them to undergo an RT-PCR test. The test result became available on the 13th, 50 minutes before the cabin crew was scheduled to fly from New Delhi to Madurai.

Air India Express, in a statement, has admitted to knowing the crew member was COVID-positive. However, the carrier did nothing to prevent the crew from operating the Delhi-Madurai flight and return flight the same day. It’s unknown if the cabin crew member knew of the test results on the 13th.

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Air India reportedly allows its crew to operate flights while awaiting test results. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

In response to the incident, an Air India spokesperson told the Hindustan Times,

“The said flight was a Delhi-Madurai flight, for which a pre-flight RT-PCR test is not mandatory. The head crew member was to operate the international sector the next day and hence had taken the test. However, she was quarantined from November 14 onwards and no other fellow crew members when tested were found infected. We will, however, surely investigate the matter.”

The airline has not confirmed if the employee was symptomatic during the flight, further raising questions about safety.

Series of issues

Airlines are usually prepared for last-minute scheduling changes, which raises questions of why Air India Express didn’t remove the crew member. While COVID-19 has previously forced Air India to turn a flight around due to a positive crew member, staff had ample time to make schedule changes in this case. The matter is now under investigation by Air India to understand the flaws in its processes and take action against negligent employees.

Air India Dreamliner Boeing 787 Arrives Into Sydney
Air India has struggled with flight bans for carrying too many positive passengers. Photo: Getty Images

This isn’t the first time Air India Express has found itself in a tough situation of its own making in the last few months. The airline received a day-long ban from Dubai authorities after allowing two COVID-positive passengers to board flights to the city.

Other countries have also responded to too many positive cases by reducing or stopping flights from India altogether. Parent airline Air India has received five bans from Hong Kong, carrying a startling 87 positive passengers to the city since June.

Privatization draws closer

This news comes weeks before bids close for Air India to become a private company. Air India Express is the only profitable part of the flag carrier, making it an important asset for any new owner. Currently, the Tata Group and partner Singapore Airlines look like the leading bidders for the flag carrier, but nothing is set in stone.

What do you think about this Air India Express incident? Should airlines require crew testing before flights? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!