A group of Australian tourists from the COVID-19 stricken Zaandam cruise liner were told they would have to spend the night in a San Francisco airport hotel rather than flying home to Sydney after United Airlines flight attendants refused to work the flight if the group were onboard. Around 135 passengers from the ship had arrived in SFO from Port Everglades where the ship docked on Thursday.
The ill-fated Holland and America Line ship had been stranded at sea since March 14 after governments refused permission for the ship to dock because of fears over the novel Coronavirus. At least 90 of the 442 passengers and 143 crew on the Zaandam have reported flu-like symptoms, and four passengers have died – at least two were confirmed to have had COVID-19.
The Zaandam and its sister-ship the Rotterdam had been moored off the coast of Florida for several days before Broward County officials gave permission for the ships to dock in Fort Lauderdale. Around 52 Florida residents were allowed to disembark first, then U.S. citizens and finally foreign passengers – the process, which involved health screenings, stretched into Saturday.
According to Holland American Line, any passengers presenting with symptoms would remain on the ships, while those who were assessed as ‘fit-to-travel’ by health officials and the CDC would be put on buses and transferred direct to airports for flights home.
The cruise line said the vast majority of passengers would leave on charter flights and it seems like the group of Australian’s did indeed fly into SFO on a charter flight. But from there, the group were booked onto a regularly scheduled United Airlines flight to Sydney.
One of the passengers in that group said in a public Facebook post that they were “bumped off” United Airlines flight UA863 on Friday because the “cabin crew refused to work with us”.
A spokesperson for United didn’t comment on whether flight attendants specifically refused to fly the group of Australian’s from the Zaandam but did say its response “continually adapts to the everchanging future as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.” The statement continued: “our commitment to safety has never wavered.”
“Although these passengers were cleared by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our crew and customers, we scheduled a special charter flight for only those passengers to depart,” United explained in a statement.
“These are extraordinary times and while we take enormous pride in our commitment to safety, we also take pride in our ability to connect the world,” the statement continued. “By providing these Australian citizens a safe and much needed way to get home after a long time at sea a half a world away, we exemplify our commitment and are proud to do our part to help all we can during this crisis.”
The flight attendants operating this flight are all believed to be volunteers.
“We are so happy to be able to get our guests home and assist those few who need additional medical services. The COVID-19 situation is one of the most urgent tests of our shared humanity, and we must do everything we can to ensure we continue to act in ways consistent with our common human dignity,” Orlando Ashford, president of Holland American line said in a statement.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.