Self-Monitoring for COVID-19

Include Yourself and Crewmembers When Watching for Symptoms

By ALPA Staff

As the airline industry continues to come to grips with the enormous challenges sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s incumbent on all airline pilots to be proactive in mitigating the risk of exposure. Part of this effort includes monitoring yourself and other flightcrew members, in addition to passengers, for signs of COVID-19.

To effectively do this, it’s essential that you have access to the latest information about the disease. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic in March 2020, but ALPA was ahead of the curve, having launched the Coronavirus Information page, a clearinghouse of resources that includes a broad range of topics, procedures, and contacts, in January.

Several of the items on the Flight Crew Resources portion of the site emphasize the need for crewmember observation, including a document produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) titled “CARE: Check and Record Everyday.” This document recommends, “If you have been exposed to a person with COVID-19, it may take up to 14 days to know if you will get sick. It is important to check your health two times each day for 14 days” after coming into contact with the infected individual. It explains how to conduct these twice-daily health checks and what to do if you exhibit symptoms.

On March 17, the FAA issued Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 20009, which shares additional guidance from the CDC about how to best protect crewmembers from exposure and reduce the risk of disease transmission on board the aircraft and while on layover. The SAFO points out that if any crewmembers exhibit symptoms, they should immediately self-isolate and be excluded from work on flights until cleared by their employer’s occupational health program and public-health authorities. That practice should include pilots and flight attendants exposed to sick household members until the former are no longer at risk of becoming infectious. Transport Canada, in “COVID-19 Guidance for the Canadian Aviation Industry,” provides similar guidelines for Canadian crewmembers.

The CDC has also issued guidelines related to flight deck cleaning and disinfection, as well as employee notifications of positive COVID-19 cases in the workplace. However, as Air Line Pilot went to press, these remain recommendations and not requirements.

In addition, the CDC promotes wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where physical-distancing efforts may be difficult. While no U.S. regulations prohibit the use of facial coverings by cockpit crewmembers, pilots still need to be able to quickly don oxygen masks, if necessary. Additionally, flight crews need to follow company guidance.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and Transport Canada have produced guidelines for airline pilots titled “COVID-19: Interim Health Guidance for Private and Commercial Air Operators and Crew Members (CASA) No. 2020-03.” This document offers recommendations pilots should follow “to protect against exposure and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on board aircraft or through day-to-day operational requirements.” Transport Canada now requires passengers to wear face coverings in certain circumstances, such as when going through security screening and in flight when they’re two metres or less from another person unless both persons live in the same private dwelling. Similar requirements are in place for crewmembers when going through security screening.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, in its safety bulletin “COVID-19 Guidance for Crews,” assures cockpit crews that the airliner flight deck remains a safe workplace, provided necessary hygienic measures are taken. The bulletin reminds pilots, “Any infections caught in the aircraft would not come via recirculated air, but due to direct contact, or via droplets, i.e., if an infected person sneezes or coughs. It is currently believed that the virus can survive on surfaces for up to four days,” making it advisable to clean regularly touched cockpit spaces.

Flying during the current pandemic has compelled carriers to take additional steps to promote the safety of their operations. While the best protective policies need to be consistently applied, monitoring yourself, your fellow crewmembers, and your passengers and taking the necessary actions when COVID-19 symptoms are detected will help curb the spread of this deadly disease.

This article was originally published in the May 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)