British Airways cabin crew are said to be failing to turn up to work on flights to and from India over fears of an explosion in COVID-19 cases in the country caused by a highly transmissible variant of the virus. On Sunday, Indian health officials reported more than 4,000 deaths and 311,170 new infections – which was actually the lowest single-day rise in more than three weeks.
The British government has restricted travel from India in response to the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country but passengers with British citizenship or residency are still allowed to travel to the UK.
British Airways continues to operate seven return flights per week between London Heathrow (LHR) and Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Passengers arriving in the UK are sent straight into hotel quarantine for 10-days but cabin crew and pilots are allowed to carry on with no restrictions on their movements.
The Heathrow-based airline has stopped night-stopping crew in India and instead two sets of crew operate a turnaround service with one set working the outbound flight and the second set of crew operating the return flight.
British Airways points out that High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters fitted on its aircraft are capable of removing as much as 99.97 per cent of airborne bacteria and particles. Crew and passengers are also required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks.
The airline has now told cabin crew to inform managers if they don’t feel “comfortable” working on India routes so that another crew member can be found ahead of time.
In a bid to convince crew the flights are safe, managers told staffers in a memo obtained by The Sun that all passengers are required to have a COVID-19 test before boarding. Pre-departure testing in India has frequently been found to be highly unreliable.
A number of countries have banned all flights from India in response to the emergence of the B.1.617.2 Coronavirus variant first identified in the country. The United States has also restricted travel but direct flights are still allowed to operate. United Airlines has restarted flights to India after briefly halting flights last month.
In a statement, a spokesperson for British Airways said: “The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority and we comply with all international regulations.”
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.