Possible Virus Exposure Means Vistara Staff Must Self Isolate

Following a passenger onboard testing positive for the coronavirus, a Vistara cabin crew member is in self-isolation. The incident highlights the dangers of travel during the outbreak and the risk cabin crews face, as well as what airlines are doing to mitigate these risks.

A Vistara flight crew is in self-isolation following a passenger onboard testing positive for the coronavirus. Photo: Venkat Mangudi via Wikimedia Commons

Virus making travel more dangerous

Incidents such as this one highlight how risky air travel has become during this pandemic. The incident occurred on 22nd March, prior to India’s domestic flight ban, onboard UK861 from Mumbai to Goa. The passenger who tested positive had previously traveled from New York to Mumbai before taking this flight. This incident came to light following a government notice two days ago, requesting any passengers on the flight to contact the authorities.

Vistara cabin crew
Cabin crew are at a high risk of catching the virus. Photo: Vistara

Vistara has requested the cabin crew of said flight to remain in self-isolation for 14 days. Cabin staff are at a high risk of contracting the virus and then passing it on due to the sheer number of passengers they come in contact with. This risk doesn’t just apply to long-haul flights from affected regions, but to all flights, even short domestic flights such as this one.

What can airlines do to protect staff?

The IATA has recommended a number of guidelines to ensure that air travel remains safe for staff. This includes providing all cabin crew with masks for all flights, avoiding close contact with each other and passengers, and providing pre-packaged meals wherever possible.

For longer, and thereby higher-risk flights, a higher standard of masks and regular temperature checks during flights are recommended. This is in addition to frequently cleaning hands and cleaning common surfaces such as lavatories.

Vistara, in a press release, has said it disinfectants cabins after every flight and deep cleans its aircraft every 24 hours. The airlines also constantly checks for any passengers showing symptoms, including during the flight.

In case of any suspected cases, the affected rows (and three ahead and behind) are sanitized along with common surfaces. Vistara’s planes also include HEPA filters which regularly filter the air. They also emphasized on hygienic practices of all crew and adding infrared thermometers in all cabins.

Will this be enough?

According to a report by the New York Times, flight crew are among the most exposed to the virus and at a high risk of contracting the disease. Airlines, in turn, are relaxing rules to allow cabin crew to wear masks, and providing more leave, although this is unpaid.

India has opted to simply ban all air travel till mid-April to slow the spread of the virus and protect airline workers. While this will bode well for crew safety, it could also push airlines into bankruptcy.

Flight crew in masks
More crews are pushing airlines for protective equipment. Photo: Getty Images

There seems to be no perfect way to prevent flight crews from contracting the virus, but airlines must provide more protective equipment to staff as they perform essential services. Most countries have still allowed domestic flights to continue operating, meaning staff still remain exposed to incidents such as this. More and more airline groups are demanding better protection from the virus as they place themselves at the frontline.