American Airlines will no longer automatically offer paid ‘pandemic leave’ to flight attendants who are identified as close contacts of a passenger or colleague who has tested positive for COVID-19. Flight attendants will still be pro-actively told about a possible exposure event but crew will not be removed from trips unless they ask to self-quarantine.
The updated policy is in line with current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance which was last updated in March and that exempts anyone who is fully vaccinated from quarantining after possible virus exposure.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) fears, however, that American’s policy could put crew at risk of spreading vaccine-resistant mutant variants. The double mutation B.1.617 variant which may be behind a record surge in Coronavirus infections in India could prove partially resistant to existing vaccines although further research is required.
“The CDC has not ruled out contracting COVID or a variant of this virus because you are vaccinated,” warns APFA in a recent staff circular. The CDC says ‘vaccine breakthrough’ is expected and that no vaccine is ever 100 per cent effective at preventing illness.
So far, however, the number of vaccine breakthrough cases recorded in the United States is remarkably low. Out of 87 million fully vaccinated people, the CDC has only received reports of 7,157 breakthrough events as of April 20.
Of those, only 498 cases required hospitalization, while health officials recorded 88 deaths.
Although the risk is incredibly small, APFA believes the change in quarantine rules for flight attendants was driven by cost-cutting from the airline. American Airlines has been contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.
The Dallas Fort Worth-based airline has been encouraging employees to get vaccinated by offering a cash bonus and an extra vacation day for staffers who get the shot. Employees must report their vaccination status to the airline before August to claim the bonus.
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.