COVID safety policies of airlines in the US have been brought into question today, particularly those of United Airlines. The carrier reportedly advises crew members who have worked with COVID infected people to continue to work unless symptoms are present. While United has been singled out, it appears to be a fairly widespread policy among US airlines.
United crew to work unless sick
Following the news that an Air India Express crew member was allowed to fly after a positive COVID test, worries have come to light regarding the employee policies of another airline. United Airlines’ flight attendants have raised the alarm, claiming contacts of COVID positive crew members are being told to fly regardless.
According to reporting by Reuters, three employees have blown the whistle on United’s policies. They said that the advice from United Airlines for people whose colleagues have tested positive is to continue to work, but to be vigilant for symptoms. These workers claim that most cabin crew feel the policy is unsafe.
This lax approach to quarantine and contact tracing could be seen as putting passengers at risk also. Many COVID-positive people have been found to be asymptomatic but could still spread the virus to those they come into contact with. It is in stark contrast to the policies at other US airlines, such as American Airlines who remove all crew from service when they have worked with an infected person.
The concerns have been noted within the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing crew at 17 airlines. A spokesperson for AFA told Reuters,
“We’ve received concerns about quarantine protocols from flight attendants across the industry from carriers we represent and where we’re organizing.”
The spokesperson confirmed that some concerns over quarantine were raised by United crew, but that other airlines had been implicated too.
Lack of direction
Since the start of the pandemic, no specific rules have been put in place regarding how airline handle their aircraft, passengers or crew. While various types of guidance have been issued, including from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), no mandates have been applied by the government on any measures.
This has led to a fragmented response, with standards of mitigation measures varying from airline to airline. Some will block a middle seat, stagger boarding or remove food service, and some will do none of those things at all. It seems the fragmented approach extends into the policies that affect cabin crew and their contacts.
United Airlines told Reuters that it follows CDC guidelines on quarantine for close contacts of infected people. Under the CDC guidelines, close contacts are those who have been within six feet of a COVID positive person for a total of 15 minutes or more during a 24 hour period. United told Simple Flying,
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority, which is why we have policies and procedures in place as part of a multi-layered approach to create a safer travel environment. We adhere to the FAA’s SAFO (Safety Alert for Operators) and CDC guidance pertaining to how we prevent the spread of COVID-19 and manage active cases for crewmembers.”
Painted as the bad guy?
While Reuters has picked out United Airlines as the airline with lax COVID crewmember policies, this is not a situation that is unique to United Airlines. Indeed, Delta Air Lines has an almost identical policy, and members of its crew have similarly complained to AFA about it.
Simple Flying has reached out to other major US airlines to discover what their policies are. This article will be updated accordingly.