Qantas Crew Member Catches COVID-19 During Paris Repatriation

Every day, airline employees, particularly onboard crew members, are put at significant risk of exposure to coronavirus. Airlines have extensive measures in place to minimize this risk, such as PPE and frequent testing. However, cases can still sometimes slip through the cracks. As much happened last week, involving a Qantas crew member who developed symptoms following a repatriation flight from Paris to Darwin.

Qantas has been operating repatriation flights from various European destinations. Photo: Getty Images

Exempt under special provisions

The crew member in question had worked onboard Qantas flight QF176 from Paris CDG to Darwin International Airport. According to data from, this 13,792 km (7,447 NM) non-stop repatriation service departed Paris behind schedule at 10:55 local time on December 16th. After 15 hours and 29 minutes in the air, the Boeing 787-9 ‘Dreamliner’ (registered VH-ZND) landed punctually in Darwin the following morning at 10:54 local time.

According to The Guardian, the man was able to use a private car to go and spend the night at a non-quarantine hotel following his arrival in Darwin. This is technically permitted under “special health provisions extended to Australian flight crew workers.” According to the Northern Territory’s health minister, Natasha Fyles, “there wasn’t interaction with the community” while he was in Darwin.

Elsewhere in Australia, the state of New South Wales has designated specific hotels for aircrew. It has even gone as far as requiring non-Qantas crew to quarantine in these hotels, following a breach of protocol by LATAM crew.

QF176 Flightpath 16Dec2020
The flightpath of QF176, which departed Paris to repatriate otherwise stranded Australians on December 16th. Image:

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Onward travel without a test

Having spent a night at the aforementioned non-quarantine hotel, the crew member continued to Sydney the following day. He did so on Qantas flight QF841, a daily scheduled domestic flight taking around four hours. Officials have acknowledged that the man was not required to take a coronavirus test at any stage of his two-day journey.

Having developed mild symptoms of COVID-19 while quarantining at home on December 20th, the crew member took a test. After returning a positive result, he has since been “moved to government-managed quarantine accommodation.” Qantas has passed a list of passengers and crew on the Darwin-Sydney flight onto health authorities to assist with contact tracing.

QF841 Flightpath 18Dec2020
The flightpath of man’s onward flight from Darwin to Sydney, QF841. He began experiencing coronavirus symptoms shortly after arriving in the capital of New South Wales. Image:

According to Dr Ian Hosegood, Qantas’s medical director, this is the first instance of a crew member contracting coronavirus since March. According to The Guardian, he reassuringly states further that:

“The crew member did not have symptoms when operating the repatriation flight or when travelling on the domestic sector, and was wearing a mask throughout both flights, so the risk of transmission is low. The domestic flight occurred more than 48 hours prior to symptom onset.”

Summer repatriation operations

The flight from Paris was one of several repatriation flights from Africa, Asia, and Europe operated by the Australian flag carrier since October. Australia is currently enforcing an international travel ban. However, these flights are allowed to operate and will help Australians to return home for the southern summer period. It is said that tens of thousands of citizens would otherwise be stranded overseas.

Qantas has repatriated Australian citizens from France, Germany, India, South Africa, and the UK. Photo: Getty Images

However, these flights are not without their own special terms and conditions. Passengers have to pay around AUD$2,000 (USD$1,500) to fly, as well as taking a COVID test less than 48 hours in departure.

Upon arrival in Australia, passengers are required to spend 14 days in quarantine. They must spend this period at the Howard Springs quarantine center outside Darwin, in the country’s Northern Territory. However, for the chance to eventually see friends and family at home, this will be a worthwhile sacrifice for many.

What do you make of this incident? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.