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What Is It Like to Fly During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty for the airline industry. Border closures and traveler concerns have forced air carriers to cancel thousands of flights, rapidly burn through cash, and layoff employees. However, the U.S. government recently passed a historic $2 trillion stimulus package, providing the commercial aviation sector $50 billion in aid.

Are any of you still working as a flight attendant or pilot? If so, what is it like? Share your stories in the comments!

There is a catch, though – airlines who accept financial assistance from the stimulus package are required to maintain minimum service levels (a minimum number of flight frequencies) and cannot furlough employees until September 30. This means that airlines will continue to fly during the pandemic, and puts a stake in the possibility of suspending all domestic air travel.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker simplified the terms of the bill in a statement, “Essentially, the U.S. government is providing funds to motivate airlines to continue air service and not involuntarily furlough any team members through a period of incredibly low demand for air travel.” Although this bill may save the airlines in the long run, it still requires many flight attendants and pilots to continue to work despite the higher probability of contracting the virus.

Because of this, there have been many questions floating around about what it is like to fly the line these days. So, I reached out to a friend of mine who works as a flight attendant for a U.S.-based airline to get her perspective on the situation, as well as the changes she has experienced throughout the past few months as a result of the coronavirus.

Do you have any new inflight procedures, such as cleaning or reduced snack/beverage service?

Our duties haven’t changed that much from what they were before the virus hit. As we all know, the number one way to proactively not spread the virus is through social distancing, and that can’t necessarily happen on an aircraft. We have been given the okay to spread passengers out so that they are not all seated together, which does help.

We are still required to do an inflight snack and beverage service and clean up the plane in between flights, like picking up trash and crossing seatbelts.

What measures are you taking to keep the aircraft clean?

Flight attendants are not provided with cleaning products for cleaning in between flights, and our aircraft are only cleaned at night. Personally, I am bringing my own antibacterial wipes to clean my work area in the galley because I feel better knowing I have cleaned it myself. Anyone planning to fly during the pandemic should do the same.

What measures has the airline taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

My airline announced a few weeks ago that they were going to start using an antimicrobial protector. This product is now sprayed on our aircraft every seven days and works by creating a microscopic film that will kill any virus, germ, or bacteria that touches a surface.

What is the most significant change you have experienced?

The most significant change is all the cancellations left and right. It feels like our airline is just bleeding money right now. We had all hoped the stimulus bill would prop our company up to ride out this pandemic, but the bill currently requires minimum service standards, which does not make sense when you are a low-cost carrier providing seasonal flights for people going on vacation. With these kinds of requirements, my airline could potentially eat up any funds it’s been given by the stimulus bill to continue to fly empty flights, just because they have to.

Approximately how many people are you seeing on your flights?

Right now, we have a very high cancellation rate, so I am only seeing single-digit passenger numbers, although I will have an occasional flight with more than 20 people on board.

Are you being offered unpaid or paid leave (or any leave options)?

We were given the option for leave in April. Flight attendants make a guarantee of 75 hours, but the leave offered 40 hours paid or a choice of no pay, but benefits paid for. Our pilots were offered 45 hours with benefits paid.

Is your company doing anything to confirm its flight attendants are coronavirus-free before duty (taking your temperature, etc.)?

No, nothing is being done to monitor both the health of the crew or the passengers before flights. Our union requested that temperatures be taken before the start of the duty day, but that request was denied. Crewmembers are allowed to wear their own masks, but we are not being provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).

What do you think about flying right now?

Flying can be a great tool to quickly transport medical equipment, goods, and essential workers (like doctors, nurses, etc.); however, leisure travel needs to be temporarily halted because it is only working against the efforts to slow down the spread of the virus.

What is it like to walk through empty airports?

It makes me sad. I wonder what the impact of the pandemic will have on all of us in the aviation field. We are already feeling a direct impact with empty flights and leaves being offered, but I wonder how this is going to impact us long term.

Is there anything you want to tell flyers?

The longer you stay home, the faster we will recover from this pandemic, and the more likely I will have a job after this is all over. The cheap airfare may be tempting, but know that it comes with a high cost of potentially exposing yourself and other people. This virus has mainly spread through asymptomatic carriers (people that show no signs or symptoms). With that said, just because you feel fine does not mean you are healthy, always act as if you have the virus and could be potentially exposing others to it.



Gynob001 April 16, 2020

I flew three times during the past 20 days. 1. Almost empty terminals. More TSA security agents than passengers. Rude TSA as most airports are abandoning TSA prechecks. Grouchy TSA agents. 2. More friendly and helpful staff. 3. More sitting room at the terminals. 4. Less crowded food establishments. 5. Cleaner seats and cabin. 6. Less cluttering, trash, and people moving about. 7. People are suspicious about otyers-no clearing of throat or cough go unnoticed. 8. Dedicated flight crew who are more helpful than ever. 9. All are ON time! Sometimes even early arrivals/departures. '10. Airport curbside clean and empty.

Jackie_414 April 15, 2020

Aside from physically attacking passengers, for years United has degraded its MP program until it is nearly worthless now. If United goes under forever that is fine with me. Another airline will pick up the slack; pilots. FA's, agents, and ground employees will get hired by other airlines.

Morgacj2004 April 15, 2020

If airlines really wanted people to stay home they would either stop offering cheap airfare or would require people to provide essential travel documents.

Danwriter April 15, 2020

The longer you stay home, the faster we will recover from this pandemic, and the more likely I will have a job after this is all over. The cheap airfare may be tempting, but know that it comes with a high cost of potentially exposing yourself and other people. +1