Hawaii’s Department of Health has confirmed that 15 Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants, as well as two of their family members, have now tested positive for the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus after attending a two-day in-person training session at the airline’s Honolulu headquarters. The mandatory annual training involved close contact between flight attendants but Hawaiian Airlines has confirmed that face masks were not mandatory for those taking part.
Late last week, eight flight attendants were first confirmed to have contracted the novel Coronavirus following the training session but that number has since ticked up over the last few days and has raised fears of a potential superspreader event. Around 60 flight attendants have now been asked to self-quarantine and self-monitor for potential symptoms.
In an internal memo, chief executive Peter Ingram told staffers that the airline had now “revised” training policies to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19. Face masks will now be mandatory during training classes, as well as in enclosed spaces like the airline’s corporate offices.
“We are also making sure that these valued members of our ‘ohana are receiving the proper medical care, and that we contact all who may have been in proximity,” Ingram reassured employees.
Hawaiian Airlines only recently restarted annual flight attendant training as it ramps up regularly scheduled flights to the U.S. mainland. The airline suspended most flights in late March but is currently flying between Honolulu and Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as Portland. From July 15, service will resume to San Diego and Sacramento and from August 1, an additional six mainland destinations will be added to its network.
Ingram says “layered safety measures” have been introduced by the airline to protect passengers and crew.
Responding to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Airlines told us they were “supporting our team members in their recovery, and other employees involved in the training have been self-monitoring their health, in accordance with CDC and state Department of Health guidance provided to us.”
“We have also reinforced our office protocols to keep our employees safe and have temporarily cancelled our flight attendant training in order to deep clean our facilities. The training occurred under a redesigned format featuring new health and safety measures, including smaller class sizes, social distancing protocols, the use of gloves, and frequent cleaning of facilities and equipment,” the statement continued.
“Face masks were strongly recommended. Once we resume training, there will be more rigorous protocols, such as a face mask requirement, electrostatic disinfection, and additional time between hands-on activities to minimize close interactions.”
Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases on the U.S. mainland, particularly southern states like Texas, airlines are required by law to continue in-person annual flight attendant training to comply with FAA rules, although exemptions give flight attendants more time to complete the training.
American Airlines recently confirmed that its flight attendants are still expected to travel to its training facility in Dallas Fort Worth but class sizes have been reduced and a number of safety measures have been implemented. These include mandatory temperature checks before entering the facility and requiring flight attendants and instructors to wear face masks and gloves.
In addition, new procedures have been introdued to limit contact with equipment like life vests and smoke hoods, as well as resuscitation mannequins.
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.