The International Pilots Association (IPA), the union representing United Parcel Service (UPS) Airlines’ pilots, agrees with the airline’s CEO that a spike in COVID-19 cases could disrupt the airline’s operations. As a cargo carrier, a disruption in operations can have far-reaching impacts, and an uptick in cases among UPS pilots is causing some concerns.
COVID-19 and UPS pilots
In a letter viewed by Simple Flying to Carol Tomé, the CEO of UPS, Captain Robert Travis, President of the IPA, concurred with Ms. Tomé that the rise of COVID-19 cases among pilots is concerning. In the letter, Capt. Travis outlined some steps that the UPS could take to reduce such impacts. Captain Travis is an Airbus A300 Captain at UPS.
The IPA is encouraging UPS to offer pilots COVID-19 testing before and after competing flight assignments. The airline, which has global operations, has pilots that fly across the world across Asia, North America, Europe, and more. The IPA believes that testing is currently inadequate, even though UPS does offer some testing.
In addition to testing, the IPA wants UPS to improve its pilot contact tracing. The pilots are concerned about the lack of standardized quarantine requirements. One such example cited in the letter includes a pregnant UPS pilot who was in the jumpseat flying from Asia to the US, the pilot in the jumpseat turned out to be COVID-19 positive, with the results coming midflight. UPS initially planned to have the entire flight crew quarantine but then reversed course.
The pilots also believe that the airline needs to support its pilots who are sick or hospitalized internationally. The letter cites a pilot, asymptomatic but tested positive, hospitalized in Hong Kong, and shares a room with a patient on a ventilator. IPA wants UPS to help get the pilot home.
Ms. Tomé’s comments
In the airline’s third-quarter earnings call, Ms. Tomé stated that it “would be a real problem” if there is a spike in cases among pilots. While she stated the airline has not seen it happen yet, it is still closely monitoring the situation.
Why a spike in cases would be a problem
Pilots who are sick or have to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case are big problems for UPS. Schedules, which are sometimes booked tightly with little room for error or replacement, can be severely disrupted by a single pilot (or multiple pilots) getting sick. It could lead to the cancellation of flights, which would then disrupt shipping channels and reduce UPS’s reliability in the field for deliveries.
While UPS does schedule with some reserve pilots who can step in if there is a sick pilot, the airline does not have enough to replace all of its pilots if all of them become sick. Not to mention, as UPS continues to expand its fleet and carry more cargo amid growth in cargo demand and a massive decrease in available capacity.
Right now, it appears that the number of sick pilots is manageable. However, with COVID-19 cases again spiking across the globe and pilots who may live in places with rising cases or else layover in a place where case counts have increased, this means more potential for exposure.
For now, both UPS and its pilots recognize the gravity of the situation. Hopefully, this is an opening for both management and pilots to have a productive discussion about what to do to keep pilots safe and maintain the global flow of cargo.
Are you concerned about rising COVID cases amongst UPS pilots? What do you think the airline and its pilots should do? Let us know in the comments!