Delta Air Lines is close to inking a deal with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic for a massive in-house COVID-19 testing programme involving every single U.S.-based employee according to the airline’s chief executive. Ed Bastian said during a webcast on Wednesday that details of the initiative with the Mayo Clinic and Quest Diagnostics who are the makers of COVID-19 antibody tests is expected to be announced within days.
Bastian tragically revealed during the same webcast that the COVID-19 virus had so far taken the lives of 10 Delta employees. “Every one of them breaks my heart,” Bastian said of the deaths. “It’s been a very difficult 90 days.”
Delta previously faced criticism for seemingly trying to stop its own employees from sharing details of their positive COVID-19 test results. Critics blasted the airline for allegedly trying to shut down employees from speaking out in what they alleged was a coverup about the true extent that the virus was affecting Delta staffers.
But in response to those allegations, the Atlanta-based airline said it had conducted contact tracing on behalf of employees with a positive diagnosis and had asked co-workers to go into quarantine. At the peak of the Corona crisis, Bastian said Delta was receiving reports of between 20 to 25 positive test results every day.
That number has now fallen to around one or two positive results per day.
But with Delta now actively looking at resuming between 40 – 50 per cent of its normal schedule by July, Bastian says the massive testing programme will help Delta work out “where they stand” with the virus and allow for ongoing monitoring.
The two tests that Delta will use are an antigen test that shows if someone has the virus right now and an antibody test that can tell if someone has already had the virus and recovered. The antibody test may be useful in revealing just how many employees have already had COVID-19 but health experts have cautioned that having antibodies doesn’t necessarily mean someone has immunity to the novel Coronavirus.
According to Delta, the airline currently employs 90,000 employees worldwide although the testing programme will be limited to U.S.-based workers. Around 41,000 employees have taken unpaid leave and the airline continues to offer workers early outs.
On Wednesday, Delta also announced that it would continue to block the middle seats on flights through September 30 in order to provide some form of social distancing on its services. The airline said it would add more flights when particular services are booked up because of the restrictions.
Bastian described July’s flight schedules as “substantially more than what you see today,” reasoning that “we need to create that core connectivity that our customers need.” At its home base, Bastian said “Atlanta will see a lot of that growth.”.
In addition to social distancing measures, Delta has already made it mandatory for flight attendants and passengers to wear face masks onboard it planes. Plexiglass cough guards have been installed at check-in counters and gate podiums, and social distancing has to be observed throughout the travel journey.
Around the world, several other airlines have already announced massive COVID-19 testing programmes for their staff. The Spanish airline Iberia will offer antigen and antibody tests for all of its employees over the next few months, while Emirates cabin crew and pilots are tested for COVID-19 after every flight.
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.