Coronavirus is spreading and those who travel the most (flight attendants and pilots) have reason for concern. But how long before employees refuse to work coronavirus flights?
****Note: This post was written prior to reports that surfaced this morning of crews already resisting flights to affected territories, causing the suspension of Milan routes for American Airlines. While I’m no Nostradamus, I followed a logical conclusion and the speculation below is already proving itself accurate.****
Coronavirus Puts Employees at Risk
Just this week, a Korean Air flight attendant became infected with coronavirus but didn’t exhibit symptoms (though presumably was contagious) during a layover in LA. She could have become infected on the flight, before or after, we really don’t know at this point, but her flight crew and passengers were at risk while she was in the air.
It’s not just this FA (who probably didn’t know she had it) who is at risk. The crews flying to northern Italy in the last couple of weeks would have been the same. If the disease is as widespread and contagious as reported, there are flight crews right now at risk of infection doing their job.
The risk to crews is higher than other groups simply because of the number of people with whom they interact and the diversity in their locations. In the last two weeks, I have personally been in four different densely populated areas none of which have reported outbreaks. However, if I had, the symptoms may not have exhibited themselves for some time, and I may have unwittingly carried it around the country as I traveled. A flight crew exacerbates this concern and are themselves in harm’s way unknowingly.
Labor Groups Have Refused 737-Max Flights, Is This The Same?
Flight attendants unions and some pilot groups have been vocal about avoiding 737-Max flights before the grounding of the type occurred. They also have stated that they aren’t going back to work on them until multiple safety checks have approved them, not just the airline or the government.
Is this the same? How many crews are signing up to work the remaining Seoul flights right now? Milan and Tokyo are joining their ranks as well, though the effect in those areas has been less dramatic than greater China. It may only be a matter of time before the labor unions protect their members in the same way, or at least demand an option to be replaced on flights to areas where the disease has not yet extended.
What Happens If Coronovirus Restrictions Are Long-Lasting?
Another concern is for the travel industry as a whole. The effects in travel to greater China have rolled from just a few weeks to months in advance with most US carriers postponing a return to the region until May. But if domestic travel slows (some suggest it already has) and a significant portion of international long-haul flights are not operating, will the same groups reverse course to keep their members working?
What happens if these travel embargos last six or nine months and domestic flights slow to a crawl? Fewer flights mean fewer flight attendants, pilots and ground staff to work them. A strong position now could make it harder for the airlines to dispell fears among the traveling public when the coast is clear.
Labor groups that protected their members by taking hard stances against the 737-MAX may have to do the same for flights to coronavirus affected areas too. This could mean that their employees are safer but also have a harder time getting work as the world recovers from the outbreak.
What do you think? Should flight crews refuse to work flights for their own safety? Could refusing flights now be detrimental later?