Etihad Airways has imposed strict new quarantine rules on all operating cabin crew over fears that rising levels of COVID-19 infections amongst flight attendants might cause the Abu Dhabi-based airline “brand damage”. In a memo sent to staffers on Friday, the airline said the measures were being introduced after more than one flight had to be cancelled because cabin crew tested positive for the novel Coronavirus.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last April, Etihad Airways imposed similar quarantine rules in line with restrictions that applied to all residents living in Abu Dhabi. The new quarantine restrictions, however, haven’t been suggested by health officials and are instead designed to protect a loss of revenue incurred from cancelled flights.
“We regret to inform our crew community that following an extremely serious situation where another flight has been cancelled due to a number of crew testing positive outstation (while abroad during a layover), effective immediately, all Cabin Crew with active rosters are required to home quarantine in Abu Dhabi,” the Friday night memo explained.
“The protection of our Cabin Crew, who are seeing elevated rates of COVID-19 transmission is paramount, and the incident in question will have huge implication regarding revenue, and could have resulted in damage to our brand had the flight gone ahead,” the memo continued.
Cabin crew have been told that they must remain at home and not see anyone from outside their household for the foreseeable future. Crew are only permitted to leave their accommodation once per day to pick up essentials like groceries or medication, or to visit a healthcare provider.
“There is a zero tolerance policy and any Cabin Crew found to be breaking these rules will face serious disciplinary action, which may lead to termination,” staffers have been warned.
“We understand these are extreme measures and appreciate your cooperation and understanding,” the memo concluded.
Being forced to cancel flights as a result of cabin crew testing positive for COVID-19 is likely to be a major source of embarrassment for Etihad after the airline doubled down on its ‘Wellness’ programme, meant to reassure wary travellers that flying during the pandemic remains safe.
Last week, Etihad’s executive director of guest experience Terry Daly boasted that 100 per cent of the airline’s guests had tested negative for COVID-19 since new testing rules were introduced in August 2020. It would now appear, however, that not all of Etihad’s flights were entirely 100 per cent COVID free.
On Saturday, Australian Open and Victoria health officials confirmed that a passenger onboard an Etihad operated charter flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne had also tested positive of COVID-19, forcing 23 players into hard quarantine. Pre-departure testing, while useful, is not infallible.
In August, cabin crew at regional rival Qatar Airways found themselves subjected to an extended night-time curfew in an effort to prevent the spread of Coronavirus despite the fact that the measure hadn’t been suggested by health officials.
Since the start of the pandemic, aircrew have come under intense scrutiny as potential vectors of the virus and have been forced to endure increasingly draconian restrictions on top of rules placed on other members of the public. Measures include forced hotel quarantine, self-isolation on return, regular COVID-19 testing and self-monitoring.
Despite the increased risks that aircrew may pose, few governments have prioritised pilots and cabin crew for vaccination. Current exceptions include Abu Dhabi and Singapore, as well as a number of U.S. states who have now started to offer the vaccine to some flight attendants.
Etihad Airways has been contacted for comment.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.