United Airlines Refused To Transport 135 Cruise Passengers To Sydney On Friday Night

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?

(HT: chipmaster)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. By the way, Florida governor opposed to let these ships come to dock at our ports. It was Trump who intervened.
    Thankfully Broward County’s elected officials and the Coast Guards and Port Everglades formed the Unified Command, gave very restrictive conditions to Carnival to meet, in order to PROTECT the safety of us, the residents of Broward county that they have the top priority and utmost duty to protect.

    Yet, Carnival was trying its sleazy tactic to gave a “minimalist plan” as described by one council member, AFTER it is given the conditions 5 days before the meeting on Mar 31st.

    After a 5 hours long discussion, and its lies being exposed during the meeting (the company’s Maritime Dept head claimed his dept had contacted Broward Health Dept on details – Head of Broward Health Dept was put on a speaker phone by a council member – it was told loudly and clearly, NO ONE from Carbival had EVER contacted Broward Health Dept on the conditions of the ship’s passengers, let along the measures would take for safely disembark those passengers without contaminates the community.) – no conclusion was able to reach on Tuesday.

    It took another 2 days before Carnival came up with the arrangements to assure safe disembarkation / subsequent transportation, incl chartered flights, and other details. Yet, they still lied till last minute – from the initial 10 sick passengers to suddenly 14 critically ill passengers that needed to go to ICUs. It ended up 10 being sent to Broward hospital and 4 sent to Miami hospital.

    Hence when Coral Princess wanted to come in and dock at Port Everglades again. Broward and Coast Guards flat out refused them. Miami would take the burden on this, again, on the similar restrictive conditions.

    South Florida is a hot spot – NOT because of the cruise ships, but because of the close tie with New York – the air traffic before Governor issued restriction, had reached 190 flights a day! from the usual 20 to 30 daily flights – when the NYorkers ran away from the sick city. Another thing is the European travels to Florida is also very frequent – thanks to the Spring Breaks, we not only got those idiots coming down to our beaches, and claimed, “pandemic or not, we still will party!” declared by a young man on TV news… We shut down the beaches one week into Spring Break but that was one week too late!

    Based on the twice a day update – it seems the curve for the inland part of South Florida has been flattened, but the number of new cases along the coastal edge from Palm Beach down to Miami-Dade, still goes up, especially City of Miami.

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