So Far 700 US Airline Employees Have Caught Coronavirus

Many airlines continue to fly some routes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with this comes increased risks for airline crew. Recent reports from flight attendant unions in the US suggest at least 700 airline employees have so far contracted coronavirus.

Their union claim that hundreds of Southwest Airlines workers have tested positive. Photo: Getty Images

600 Southwest Airlines employees have tested positive for COVID-19

As reported by Texas radio station WBAP on April 7th, the union representing Southwest Airlines‘ employees claims that 600 workers have so far tested positive for coronavirus.

TWU Local 556 represents over 17,000 Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants and employees. Its president, Lyn Montgomery, explained her view of the severity of the situation in reporting through NBC DFW, saying,

“Flight attendants are in a high-risk position while providing the essential service of travel. Our risk factors seem to be increasing. This is unacceptable.”

And 100 American Airlines crew have caught the virus

It’s not just Southwest Airlines that is affected. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), which represents 28,000 crew members, claims it knows also about 100 American Airlines flight attendants who have tested positive for COVID-19.

American Airlines in Washington
APFA claims to know of 100 cases of American Airlines flight attendants testing positive. Photo: Getty Images

Asking for better protection

Both unions report that they have asked airlines to provide equipment and implement further safety procedures. APFA president Julie Hedrick released the following statement describing its demands, and Lyn Montgomery has made similar requests to Southwest Airlines:

APFA has been pushing the Company since January to be proactive in their approach to COVID-19 and the associated dangers. We have consistently advocated for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all of our Flight Attendants to be available on every aircraft, for social distancing between passengers and crew jump seats, for thermal scanning in the airports.”

Cabin crew wears protective gear for Korean Air
Many flight attendants wear masks already, but this may not be enough (seen here are Korean Air crew). Photo: Getty Images

What can be done?

Clearly, if airlines are to continue to fly, there needs to be more consideration of protective equipment, or some changes to operating procedures.

The use of full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be difficult – there is a lack of supply for the medical industry in many countries, never mind other sectors. But several airlines have implemented new procedures – including the thorough cleaning of aircraft and enforcement of social distancing in flight. Perhaps more of this is needed as flights continue.

Simple Flying reached out to both Southwest Airlines and American Airlines for further comment.

Southwest Airlines responded that the union claims are inaccurate. It said:

“The Safety and well-being of Southwest’s Employees and Customers is our uncompromising priority, and Southwest continues implementing measures to maintain our aircraft cabins, airport locations, and work centers with the highest standards of cleanliness, including following all CDC guidelines, during this unprecedented time. Currently, far less than 1% of more than 60,000 Southwest Airlines Employees have tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).”

And American Airlines told us:

“The safety of our customers and team members is our top priority. We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials and are coordinating with them on any required health and safety related measures. We continue to look at all ways we can care for – and protect – our team during this stressful time.”