Virgin Atlantic has barred its own cabin crew and pilots from socialising during work trips to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 amongst aircrew while they are on an international layover. The policy has been in place since late December when the UK was gripped by the highly-infectious Omicron variant.
The airline decided to implement its own policy limiting social interaction amongst staff despite the British government’s decision not to place any restrictions on hospitality during the Omicron wave.
In England, nearly all pandemic restrictions were lifted last week in a controversial shift in policy to ‘living with the virus’ as an endemic illness rather than a pandemic that requires emergency controls such as social distancing and work from home edicts.
But Virgin Atlantic is yet to lift its own social distancing rules that have been imposed on staff. It is believed to be the only airline in Britain to bar socialising aircrew during layovers.
Some staff have raised concerns for their mental health, separated from their friends and family in a foreign country and then being banned from interacting with other people.
“Airline crew already spend considerable time away from their family and friends. These requested restrictions should be lifted as quickly as possible to enable them to support each other as normal while away from home,” commented, Martin Chalk, head of the BALPA pilots union.
“The challenges faced and overcome by pilots and our cabin crew colleagues during the pandemic, particularly the overblown and oppressive requirements in some places, are illustrated by the difficulties this airline is trying to address,” Chalk told The Telegraph.
Some countries require pilots and cabin crew to quarantine in their hotel rooms during layovers, although many of these strict rules have been lifted for vaccinated aircrew or through the use of rapid testing.
Virgin Atlantic will restart flights to Hong Kong by operating via India in order to circumvent the risk of aircrew being sent to one of the territory’s quarantine camps.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said the airline took “pre-emptive measures to uphold operational and staffing resilience, always putting the health and safety of our people and our customers first.”
“Alongside any local requirements, temporary measures are in place for our crews to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission while they are overseas. This guidance to our people means we ensure they stay healthy and well and avoid flight disruption or cancellations for customers. These measures are kept under constant review and will be maintained only as long as necessary.”
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.