Corona - breathing mask - mouthguard

Air traffic: Flying despite corona

Martina Roters
1 picture
6 minutes

March 2020. Corona – Sars-CoV-2 – has at least fully infected the media. Almost every hour there are updates on the development of the pandemic and on the measures the international community is taking to “nip the spread of this disease like Covid-19 in the bud”. In some cases, not even experts agree on the appropriateness of the measures taken by the authorities. WingMag is therefore concentrating on the factual effects and individual decisions that each passenger has to make.

Aircraft on the ground, share prices in nosedive

The world holds its breath for fear of Corona: Air traffic to and from China has almost come to a standstill, and other destinations are also experiencing a dramatic drop in passenger numbers. The first companies are already issuing profit warnings. Corona is therefore also squeezing the stock market prices: airlines like Lufthansa have suffered massive, double-digit price declines.

So contingency plans are put on the table, bonuses are cancelled, unpaid leave is offered to staff in the air and on the ground. Prospective newcomers to the profession at Austrian Airlines are particularly hard hit: there, even the current training course for flight attendants is being discontinued because cabin crew are no longer needed.

Austrian Airlines
Austrian Airlines © Pixabay – Ramboldheiner

Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published estimates that the industry’s losses could reach almost US$ 30 billion in 2020. However, under the assumption that the virus does not spread further. Now it looks dark black on the horizon.

Mitigating circumstances

There are just two circumstances that give the European aviation industry some breathing space when comparing the situation with the SARS crisis of 2003:

Back then, South East Asia accounted for a much larger share of the business than it does today. Lufthansa, in particular, has now oriented itself more towards North America on long-haul routes.

The second silver lining is the price of fuel. Aviation fuel became almost 10 percentage points cheaper at the end of February. At least that benefits the airlines, where a quarter of the money disappears in the tank.

Who absolutely has to fly?

Professionals cannot simply say: “It’s too dangerous for me, boss, I’m not going there”. That would be refusal to work. Especially not the flight crew, some of whom have to take a temperature measurement before they fly.

On the other hand, there is the employer’s duty of care. For example, he may not order trips to areas for which there is a travel warning. And probably also not for particularly endangered persons who have an increased risk of death due to an infection with Covid-19 (such as diabetics).

However, most companies cancel trips for self-protection and replace them – as far as possible – with web conferences.

When travelling privately, one should ask oneself how much risk is worth taking and what the situation is like in the destination area.

Service restrictions

Flying in times of Corona is possible, but it can bring certain restrictions.

These include the service for the protection of crew and passengers. Some of the possible measures (these vary depending on the airline):

Protective measures on board and active self-protection against Corona

Air conditioning is friend, not foe! Thanks to high-performance filters, the air on board is much cleaner than on the ground. The vertical air circulation makes it difficult for viruses to jump from one passenger to another by droplet infection, except in the immediate vicinity. The most dangerous time is the time when boarding and alighting and the waiting time when the air conditioning nozzles are not yet in action. In addition, the risk of infection increases with the duration of the flight; the following data are taken from a study for the H1N1 flu virus, the figures correspond to the number of people who become infected (statistically):

Corona – Mask or no mask?

Wearing a mouthguard is actually intended for infected people. The WHO even advises against wearing a mouthguard for non-infected people as a preventive measure, because it does not protect healthy people, but only weighs them down in false security. Also, the handling of the mask has to be learned, it must not be touched – except when putting it on –, it has to be changed constantly, otherwise it is counterproductive and last but not least it has to be disposed of professionally.

Under certain circumstances, a mask wearer is sensitized to how often he wants to touch his mouth and nose and learns to train himself to do so. But usually the virus also enters via the eyes, against which a mouthguard does not help. (Sun)glasses would be more appropriate.

Corona - Virus
© Pixabay – wal_172619

What can happen to me on a flight?

If you fall ill on board yourself, you would be isolated as far as possible from other passengers (guideline: 2 metres) – if the flight is fully occupied, the staff will try to erect an artificial wall using foil and adhesive tape. Only one and the same flight attendant will appear for your care. And, of course, you will be given a protective mask. As soon as you land, you will be taken to a hospital.

Even if a fellow passenger becomes a suspected case (e.g. due to a dry cough and slight fever), it is possible that you will not arrive at your original destination airport in Germany, but your flight will be diverted to one of the following airports: Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin, because these are the airports that have so-called core capacities for these cases.

Before you disembark, airport staff or the health authorities (in protective clothing) will board the aircraft and you will have to fill in a passenger locator card, which will contain your personal details, flight number, seat number, etc., as well as your whereabouts and contact details so that the authorities can contact you in case of an emergency. 

By the way, these passenger locator cards are also mandatory for flights from countries with an increased number of cases: China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran (as of the beginning of March).

What if I feel sick after a trip?

Then please DO NOT go to your family doctor but call him and wait for more detailed instructions. Or you can visit the website of the Robert Koch Institute. If you enter your postcode there, you will be directed to the appropriate contact point.

Keep your nerves in case of emergency! If your doctor has diagnosed you with flu in the past, you have always assumed that you will get well again!

Good health!

Cover picture © Pixabay Peggy_Marco

by Martina Roters

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