Which airlines have vaccinated cabin crews and does it matter?

In February 2021, Etihad became the first airline in the world to have all its employees vaccinated.

Would you be more comfortable flying if you knew your flight crew was fully vaccinated? Maybe not.

After all, some of your fellow passengers might not be vaccinated, although several airlines require it.

Apart from children and those with a medical exemption, all passengers on Qantas’ international flights must be fully vaccinated. From February 1, 2022, Air New Zealand will have the same requirement for passengers on its international network. Since October 30, 2021, anyone taking a flight from an airport anywhere in Canada must be fully vaccinated, and that’s a national law rather than an airline requirement.

Those airlines are in the minority, but unvaccinated cabin crew are just one more chink in the armour that keeps the virus at bay. There are plenty of instances of crew members testing positive for COVID-19. It was infected international aircrew who spread the virus to a Sydney limousine driver in June 2021, which caused a major outbreak and sparked a 107-day lockdown in that state, and spread the infection to other states.

Just as I’d rather sit in a restaurant or a cinema knowing that everyone around me has been asked to show proof of vaccination, I’m a whole lot happier sitting in a metal tube for several hours if I know the cabin crew are fully vaccinated.

Which airlines fly with vaccinated crews?

Since November 15, Qantas has required all its frontline employees including cabin crew, pilots and airport workers to be fully vaccinated. Virgin Australia has the same policy, implemented at the same date.

In the US, United Airlines announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August 2021, after the country was hit by a wave of infections. When the airline threatened to fire nearly 600 workers who refused to comply, almost half immediately submitted proof of vaccination. Hawaiian Airlines required all its employees to have their final vaccination by November 1, 2021.

Most US airlines that do not have a vaccine mandate are ratcheting up the pressure on unvaccinated employees. Delta is deducting US$200 per month from the pay packets of unvaccinated employees to cover the cost of health insurance premiums. American Airlines will no longer give special pandemic leave to unvaccinated workers who contract COVID-19. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is one of the few holdouts among the US carriers, backing down from plans to boot unvaccinated staff, despite a federal mandate.

Qatar Airways achieved 100 per cent vaccine compliance for all its employees without making it compulsory. Those who were not vaccinated were required to take an invasive COVID-19 test every few days to prove they weren’t infected, and all quickly fell into line.

In February 2021, Etihad became the first airline in the world to have all its employees vaccinated.

All Singapore Airlines’ customer-facing staff including pilots and cabin crew are fully vaccinated as is the airlines’ entire Singapore-based workforce. Since September 1 all Cathay Pacific flights have operated with fully vaccinated crew. A small number of aircrew who chose not to get vaccinated or to provide a medical exemption were sacked, according to the airline. Japan Airlines, on the other hand, encourages but does not require its employees to get vaccinated.

British Airways does not require its crews to be vaccinated. It’s a matter of personal choice, says BA management. Virgin Atlantic, ditto – although the airline has announced new hires must be vaccinated. Personal choice is all very well, but given that an unvaccinated person is more likely to become infected and more likely to transmit the virus, I’m also going to exercise my personal choice to not breathe the same air as you and therefore I won’t be flying BA or Virgin Atlantic. Since mid-November, SWISS has required its flight crew to be vaccinated and Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines are marching in the same direction.

Aside from the health concerns, part of the motivation for airlines to have fully vaccinated crews stems from problems they face at some destinations. In November, British Airways suspended flights to Hong Kong after a BA crew member tested positive for COVID-19, causing other BA crew on the same flight to undergo 21 days’ isolation at Hong Kong’s Penny’s Bay quarantine centre. The backpacker-basic accommodation at the centre is well short of the five-star lodgings that are the standard for flight crew on a layover, with bland food served on plastic trays that make economy-class inflight meals look exotic. Some Finnair crew also suffered the same fate while for hapless Cathay Pacific crews the quarantine centre has become a virtual home-away-from-home.

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