Flight crews are still testing positive for coronavirus despite the worldwide slowdown in air travel.
One hundred American Airlines flight attendants had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents that airline’s 27,000 cabin crew employees, the group’s spokesman, Paul Hartshorn Jr. told USA Today.
In a statement, Julie Hendrick, AFPA’s new president, said the union had been pushing American as early since January to be more proactive regarding protection for front-line workers.
“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, and to receive immediate notification of Flight Attendants who have tested positive for the virus,” she said. “Flight Attendants are aviation’s first responders who are transporting medical personnel and supplies into COVID-19 hotspots, and they need to be treated and protected as such.”
On Thursday, Capt. Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the union that represents American Airlines pilots, told USA Today that 41 of them have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Flight crews are a unique and effective (carrier) for the virus, as the only group traveling repeatedly and rapidly across the country,” he said.
Therefore, he added, “It is critical that flight crews receive “first responder” status and priority for protective equipment. It is equally critical that a more robust screening program be instituted for flight crews and passengers, including priority virus testing for crewmembers.
“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,” the airline said in a statement shared by spokesperson, Ross Feinstein. “We continue to look at all ways we can care for – and protect – our team during this stressful time.”
One American flight attendant, Philadelphia-based crew member Paul Frishkorn, died on March 23.
Lori Bassani, the previous president of AFPA, told USA TODAY, “When this hits one of your own, it sheds a whole new light on the coronavirus,” said Bassani. “This does spread more fear among our ranks. This is a killer virus, unlike any we have experienced.”
On Monday, the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents more than 65,000 aviation workers who work for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines among others, sent a letter to the FAA and OSHA regarding the health and safety of airline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The letter requested aircraft be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in between flights and asked that flight attendants be provided with personal protective equipment.
On Wednesday, Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said that currently, less than 1% percent of the airline’s 60,000 employees have contracted the virus and they will continue to make sure their aircraft and work environments are clean according to CDC guidelines.