One hundred and thirty five Holland America cruise ship passengers were turned away by United Airlines on Friday night after cabin crew refused to work a flight to Sydney if they were allowed on board.
This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that flight crew have refused a trip over coronavirus fears. On March 1, before the spread of the novel coronavirus had really hit the U.S. the way that it has now, American Airlines crew refused to fly to Milan and the airline had to cancel the flight.
This situation was different. United Airlines crew refused to fly to Sydney, not because New South Wales, Australia is more of a hot spot than San Francisco where the flight was departing, but because of the Australian passengers who were ticketed to be on board.
On March 17, the CDC recommended against all cruising, worldwide. They also recommended any getting off of a cruise to quarantine for 14 days. While the CDC has performed poorly in the current crisis, that advice is strong enough that as cabin crew on the flight I wouldn’t want to take the trip with 135 cruise passengers either.
The Zaandam was scheduled to end its 14 day journey in Chile, but was turned away on March 21. It has been at sea ever since (and originally was set to arrive in Fort Lauderdale a week from now). Four passengers died on the Zaandam, and at least 250 had flu-like symptoms.
Passengers of the Zaandam and the Rotterdam (which had been sent as a rescue ship for Zaandam passengers) who were not showing symptoms took charter flights from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, San Francisco, Toronto, Paris, Frankfurt, and London. These 135 passengers were continuing on from San Francisco to Sydney.
There were passengers who remained on the ship, however, in isolation due to their symptoms while others still were medically evacuated due to the seriousness of their cases.
Several things are striking about the refusal of transportation though:
- United found hotel rooms for these 135 passengers. Hotels are empty, but I wonder if the hotels were informed that they had come off of cruise ships?
- Where was the breakdown when these flight arrangements were made? If the cruise ship was paying for the flights, someone at United should have raised a flag. They should have made special arrangements and worked with crew in advance. This shouldn’t have been a surprise at the airport.
- And if the concern that led to bumping the passengers was that some might have COVID-19, why were they all lined up in close proximity to each other?
I feel badly for the passengers, stuck at sea for so long. I wouldn’t have embarked on a cruise ship on March 7 but another cruise line is said to have explicitly misled customers about the risk of the virus.
Nonetheless, their condition should not have been a last minute surprise for United Airlines employees. Passengers not showing signs of the virus are not virus-free passengers.
How’d you like to show up to work and not have a chance to work through risks or procedures associated with your shift?