What Flight Attendants Are Doing Differently During The Coronavirus Outbreak

An empty plane. Flight attendants tell us how their industry has been disrupted by coronavirus fears...
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As more countries combat the spread of coronavirus, one of the main industries impacted has been travel. On March 11, President Donald Trump announced that beginning Friday, non-American citizens traveling from Europe will be banned from entry to the United States for the next 30 days. As a result of coronavirus, the travel industry is expected to lose more revenue than it did after 9/11, according to USA Today. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has made clear that most viruses and germs do not spread easily on planes, Americans are being especially cautious about flying.

Bustle spoke with Scott* and Frida*, two Atlanta-based flight attendants, about what flight attendants are doing differently during the coronavirus outbreak.

Does Coronavirus Spread On Airplanes?

The spread of coronavirus has meant that people still traveling are trying to be as vigilant about hygiene as possible — which they’re supposed to be doing all the time.

“When I worked this weekend, everyone had a package of wet wipes and was wiping everything down,” Frida tells Bustle. “This is probably the cleanest the plane has ever been.”

Many airlines have implemented extra cleaning services, AFAR Magazine reported between flights or at the end of the travel day. Delta announced in a statement that the airline would use EPA-registered disinfectant and a novel "fogging" process to sanitized its aircraft, as well as "additional sanitation procedures for inbound catering equipment at international gateways."

The concern about coronavirus spreading is also a great time to debunk a common air travel myth, Frida says. “I know there has always been this myth that the air in the cabin recirculates, but that’s not actually true. The air inside the cabin is filtered and comes from the outside. When you’re onboard, you’re not breathing in the same air over and over again at all.”

Some Flight Attendants Are Treating Coronavirus Like Flu Season

To these flight attendants, dealing with the coronavirus hasn’t been too different from an average day on a plane, knowing that passengers may be boarding with any kind of illness.

“I’m just a little more concerned than I am during just a regular flu season,” Scott tells Bustle. “People are sick sometimes and choose to fly no matter what. It’s hard and expensive to change a flight.” (Many airlines are now offering to waive change fees for passengers wishing to reschedule their travel.)

How Coronavirus Precautions Could Change Travel Norms

“I like that people are being cleaner than usual,” says Frida. Before coronavirus, she says she regularly saw passengers emerge from the plane’s bathroom “barefoot and clearly without enough time to wash their hands.” Frida also says that passengers are being “extra kind” right now. She hopes that passengers’ increased attention to personal hygiene and empathy sticks around once the public health crisis is over.

“People who aren’t actually sick don’t normally take these precautions when they travel” — like wiping down your seat, armrests, seatbelt, and tray table, plus engaging in proper handwashing techniques after using the bathroom — “but they probably should,” she says.

How Coronavirus Might Impact Travel Industry Jobs

As airlines are already seeing drops in new ticket booking, they’re also seeing drops in revenue. Nearly every major carrier is making cuts to flight schedules as a result, reports USA Today. Certain airlines may even see as much as 70% reduction as a result of coronavirus, a significant number compared to the 40% in the two months following 9/11.

“Our company has already talked about decreasing the schedule, which means decreasing flights, which means decreasing our hours,” Frida says. She has been flying with her airline long enough where she’s likely safe from furloughs, which often impact the newest employees first. As a member of a two-income household without children, she feels privileged to have savings, too. She’s concerned for how flight attendants with less seniority and those with children or in a one-parent household could be impacted.

Because of the flight attendants union, Scott says, there are lines in every in-flight crew member’s contract about how long they can be furloughed. He says the union has been very communicative with its members about what it is doing to ensure that no member loses “any more money than we need to” during this time.

How Flight Attendants Are Coping During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Flight attendants deal with stressful situations constantly. Frida says that in her experience, overreacting can make them harder to manage.

“With our job, anything can happen to make a plane late. Anything can happen while flying that can ruin your day or your plans,” Scott says. “As flight attendants, we’re already planning ... one day at at time. Right now, we know our schedule for April, but not for May. That’s normal for us.”

“My worries aren’t necessarily getting the virus and contracting the illness while traveling,” Frida says. “My worry is being quarantined for two weeks, or being stuck in another country and not being able to get back home.”

Frida says that when it comes to the latest news regarding coronavirus, her friends and colleagues in the industry aren’t really discussing it outside of complaining about all the wet wipes they now have to pick up.

After Trump’s coronavirus travel restriction announcement, though, Scott says things may begin to change.

Both Scott and Frida would encourage fliers to abstain from traveling if they’re sick, and practice good hygiene while onboard.

“All the little things people should have always been doing in the first place are the things we hope people are doing now,” Scott says.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC or NHS 111 in the UK for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.