- Airlines around the world have cancelled flights and suspended routes to China amid plummeting demand due to the coronavirus outbreak.
- However, airlines are also taking other precautions as the virus continues to spread to other countries.
- We asked flight attendants how they felt about working in air travel during the outbreak – here’s what they said.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As the coronavirus outbreak spreads across China and the globe, much of the world has cut itself off from China, with airlines suspending routes to the country as demand for travel to the region plummets.
As the number of coronavirus cases approached and passed the total from the 2003 SARS outbreak, cities in China became virtual ghost towns, with quarantines and fears of catching the virus leading people to stay indoors.
Many of the world’s airlines are no longer flying to China, including the three US airlines that normally fly there, but concerns within the travel sector remain, especially as more cases of the virus are found in other countries.
While some passengers may be concerned about flying or passing through global hubs, flight crews spend extended periods on planes and are exposed to significantly more people.
“Aviation workers are always on the front line of any communicable disease,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “What’s concerning about the coronavirus is that people who are infected and not yet displaying symptoms can spread the disease.”
As airlines take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, we asked several flight attendants how they felt about working in air travel, in confined spaces among tons of passengers, during the outbreak.
Here’s what they had to say.
Are you a flight attendant, pilot, or other airline employee with thoughts on the outbreak or the air-travel industry? Email this reporter at [email protected].
“We’re definitely worried,” a Delta flight attendant said.
“I’m definitely worried, partly because someone can have no symptoms but still have it and be a carrier. You don’t realise it till it’s too late.
“I know of one person who worked a China flight before the quarantine order and then ended up working domestic flights. Crews were afraid to work with them. And that person had to go back to China before our flight suspension started. No one wants to go; people said they’d just call out sick.
“Part of the reason we’re concerned is that they haven’t set up protocols for everything, like how to deal with cleaning up people’s food after meals. Plus we were the last airline to suspend flights.
“I’m especially worried, and other people are too, that my immune system might not be as strong, because I had health problems tied to the uniforms. I knew people who were severely immunocompromised. It makes me concerned.
“I don’t remember it being like this during SARS, with people so nervous and sceptical. A lot of my friends at work don’t believe it when they hear that the coronavirus isn’t that bad. I don’t remember doctors dying during SARS, or people talking about whistleblowers.
“It’s definitely enough to have me worried about working in travel right now.”
One flight attendant who works for Spirit Airlines said that even at the low-cost US carrier, which doesn’t fly anywhere near where the virus originated, cabin crew members were being extra cautious.
“We are all pretty worried about the coronavirus.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of us are taking extra precautions now (extra hand-washing, wiping down our jump seats and onboard phones with Lysol wipes, and I see a lot more people wearing gloves to collect trash).
“I definitely think a lot of the travelling public have started to rethink their travel plans. Flights haven’t been as full as they typically are.
“Luckily for the cabin crew, though, regardless of how many people we have on board, we still need a fully staffed plane, meaning we are still getting all of our hours.”
But many other flight attendants said they weren’t worried, including a New York-based employee for one of the major US airlines.
“I actually haven’t had to work since the outbreak, but I have travelled. I’m not too concerned about catching it, and from the looks of it, most passengers were not either. I only saw about a handful of people wearing masks on my flight to and from Europe the other day.
“In my opinion, it’s just like another strain of the flu/cold. Symptoms are very similar – not that I want it! But I believe that generally healthy people shouldn’t be any more concerned about the coronavirus than they are with catching the flu. Hopefully without the flights to China and all of the other precautions they are taking, it shouldn’t spread too far.
“We aren’t letting anyone who has been in China in the past 14 days on any of our flights. I’ve heard some people who have tried to bypass that, though, but have been removed by government authorities.
“I don’t think the travel demand will drop either. We are coming up on peak travel season soon, especially with a lot of spring breaks being next month. I definitely could see the demand for the other Asia routes that we are still operating to drop for the time being, but I believe it will not have much of an effect on the airline in general.
“I would just recommend that people wash their hands often when travelling, take their vitamins, and don’t travel if you are already feeling sick!”
The main thing is to be cautious, a Texas-based flight attendant for American Airlines said.
“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, but definitely more cautious! Trying to wash my hands a ton, always wearing gloves when picking up trash, sanitizing my bag when I get home, etc.
“At this point, I don’t see travel demand dropping at all, but if the virus started spreading faster through the US, then I think it would start to fall.
“Also, a lot of passengers have asked me for face masks, which we currently do not have onboard or provide. So if they want them, they need to bring their own.
“If the virus started spreading more and travel demand dropped, I would assume the airlines would temporarily suspend flights to and from certain cities with the least demand.”
Ultimately, according to a Qantas flight attendant, the fact that most airlines have suspended or seriously curtailed flights has workers feeling more comfortable.
“We are cancelling flights to China from February 9. No idea why it wasn’t an immediate cancellation.
“I didn’t work any of the last flights to China, thank goodness. The 787 [the type of plane on which this flight attendant works exclusively] doesn’t go there. I would have called sick if I was rostered any China flights.
“I’m not too worried. I think it’s no more serious than other flus that have been around. If you’re healthy, it’s not going to kill you.
“Some of my colleagues are worried, but others feel the same as me.
“In the end, I think the media are making a bigger deal of it than it needs to be.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.