Australian health officials wanted to ban Qantas flight attendants and other international crew members arriving in the country’s most populous state of New South Wales from getting their hair cut or going to other ‘high risk’ settings like cafes, restaurants or bars as part of NSW’s COVID-19 border reopening plans.
But after direct intervention from airline executives, officials have backed down after it was pointed out just how many restrictions were being placed on flight crew and will now allow international crew members to visit high-risk settings so long as they take multiple COVID-19 tests.
Both New South Wales and Victoria reopened international borders on November 1 for the first time in nearly 600 days, allowing fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families to come to Australia from abroad without needing to quarantine.
Fully vaccinated arrivals, including flight crew, will need to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test and as an extra layer of protection, health officials in NSW have ordered all arrivals coming into the state from abroad to get a second test within 24 hours of arrivals and a third test after seven days.
Until the third test comes back as negative, fully vaccinated arriving passengers are barred from entering ‘high-risk settings’ under new pandemic health rules.
The same rules were going to apply to flight attendants but the airline industry had to point out to government bureaucrats that flight crew normally don’t stay in the country for more than seven days before going on another international trip.
Effectively, international flight crew would be indefinitely barred from dining in cafes or restaurants, visiting mass spectator events, accessing healthcare or even getting their hair cut.
The rules were quickly amended overnight after the extent of the restrictions were fully realised and now officials have made two big changes. First, the list of high-risk settings has been slashed and now only includes aged care facilities, disability care, healthcare and correctional facilities.
Second, flight attendants will be allowed to take a PCR or rapid antigen test to access these settings before the end of the seven-day arrival window. All other arriving passengers will remain barred from these settings until they’ve received a negative result from their day seven test.
Qantas is recalling as many 6,000 staff who were stood down to get its international operation back up and running. International commercial flights have already started between Sydney and London and Los Angeles with other destinations relaunching in the coming weeks.
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.