As airlines around the world grapple with worsening staff shortages as a result of surging COVID-19 infections that are sickening crew and sending them into isolation, Qatar Airways has told flight attendants they are no longer allowed to leave their hotel rooms during international layovers because of Omicron fears.
As well as a self-imposed hotel quarantine policy, Qatar Airways is also introducing a nightly curfew for crew at its home base in Doha. Crew will only be allowed to leave lockdown for a ‘justifiable emergency’ or with the prior permission of a manager.
“In light of the continuously rising number of COVID-positive cases globally, we are forced to implement additional precautionary measures to minimise the risk of spreading the highly transmisaable strains of the virus,” an internal memo titled ‘COVID-19 precautionary measures’ informed crew.
“While we understand the temporary precautionary steps introduced may make life more difficult, we assure you that these measures are being put into place with the sole aim of protecting you and those around you from contracting the virus.”
The measures have not been introduced by Qatar’s Ministry of Health and while it is not illegal to break the rules, crew could face disciplinary action including dismissal.
Throughout the pandemic, pilots and cabin crew have become accustomed to spending time in hotel quarantine during layovers. These lockdowns are normally a local legal requirement but in many jurisdictions, hotel quarantine has been eased or completely removed for fully vaccinated crew members.
Notable exceptions include China and Hong Kong, where crew can be placed into government quarantine facilities at a moments notice.
Some airlines have required crew to remain locked in their hotel room even in countries where isolation rules for foreign airline workers don’t exist. Qatar Airways has moved to reassure crew that it has only imposed an internal lockdown rule in response “to the highly alarming situation at present and we will certainly be removing such measures as soon as it becomes safe to do so”.
Earlier this month, Qatar Airways ordered cabin crew to wear protective gowns, gloves and goggle onboard all flights in response to concerns over the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
The nightly curfew will last from 10 pm to 4 am and until further notice. Most cabin crew live in company-owned shared accommodation and their movements can be tracked by onsite security. Last year, Qatar Airways introduced an even longer curfew and made crew who resided in their own accommodation move back into the airline’s flats.
Some cabin crew complained they had been separated from their families, including young children, in order to comply with the rules.
An even tougher lockdown is in effect at Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi where crew were told on Christmas Eve that a full lockdown would go into effect for at least 10-days to combat a surge of infections amongst the airline’s cabin crew workforce.
Cabin crew are almost completely barred from leaving their accommodation except to go to work or seek urgent medical care.
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.