German flag carrier Lufthansa has abolished a longstanding requirement for new hire flight attendants to take a mandatory pre-employment HIV test following a years-long equality campaign.
A union that represents flight attendants at the airline says wannabe flight attendants who were discovered to be HIV positive had their offers of employment with the airline withdrawn following the life-changing revelation.
In some cases, the airline allegedly informed people who otherwise had no idea that they were HIV-positive of their status during short telephone calls in which recruiters went on to tell them that their contract was being ripped up.
Lufthansa’s reasoning for requiring new flight attendants to have an HIV test before starting the job was because of outdated fears that HIV-positive people shouldn’t have a yellow fever vaccination.
In many international airlines, it is a condition of employment that pilots and flight attendants are vaccinated against Yellow Fever because they would otherwise be barred from flying to a number of high-risk countries like Ghana, Angola, and Cameroon.
In addition, some countries also require proof of Yellow Fever vaccination if someone has recently travelled to a high-risk destination, and there are a slew of other countries where it is advisable to be vaccinated against Yellow Fever.
The Yellow Fever vaccine is highly effective, but it is what is known as a ‘replicating live attenuated vaccine’ and in the past, health authorities advised that anyone with HIV avoid having the Yellow Fever vaccine because the immune response may be reduced.
The science has moved on significantly since those warnings were issued many years ago, and nowadays, the vast majority of HIV-positive people who are being treated successfully can be vaccinated.
“Many people have been denied the dream of flying in the last few decades and we are sure that even today, some HIV-positive people shy away from applying because ‘positive’ flying has been long portrayed as an image of impossibility,” the AG-Gesundheit said in a statement on Thursday.
“The stigmatization that affects people living with the virus is still omnipresent today and is associated with shame and prejudice,” the statement continued.
“It was always a thorn in our side that Lufthansa, in particular, had insisted on an HIV test for recruitment… this test resulted in major cases of discrimination, especially in the beginning”.
Following years of internal campaigning from Lufthansa’s own staff, the airline has finally withdrawn the need to take a mandatory HIV test, it was confirmed on Thursday. Lufthansa will, however, still offer a pre-employment HIV test as part of its ‘tropical fitness’ medical examination.
“This is a small, quiet success and milestone in Lufthansa’s history, but one that has great significance, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community,” a spokesperson for the union commented.
“it recognizes the reality of life for an HIV-positive person (once treated) as fully fit for employment… job applicants will no longer be subjected to harassment and discrimination in the future.”
Lufthansa was contacted for comment but the airline did not immediately respond over the Easter weekend.
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.