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Flight Crew and COVID-19 Restrictions: Going Forward into 2021

A UPS Boeing 767F at Vienna Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

Air travel has been significantly curtailed due to COVID-19, with international travel, in particular, being a shadow of what it once was. The international flights that have lasted through the pandemic, however, are posing an unforeseen set of challenges for airlines as they try to make it out to the other side.

One of these unforeseen challenges is the difficulty airline crews face in other countries. Each country has handled COVID-19 differently, and airlines operating international flights have to abide by the rules of the destination countries.

Strict Quarantines

In countries where COVID-19 precautions are justifiably strict, international crews face harsh quarantine rules while they are on the ground. Throughout the pandemic, airline crews have frequently complained about the restrictions they face during rest periods in foreign countries, particularly in Asia where COVID-19 is significantly more under control.

Crews across both passenger and cargo airlines have expressed dismay about mandatory testing along with rules from local authorities barring crew from leaving their hotel rooms. Many have cited issues such as not receiving room keys, not being allowed to leave their rooms once allowed in, and having their meals left at the door.

UPS pilots and their union, the Independent Pilots Association, raised concerns about the invasive nature of COVID-19 testing to both management and White House officials. Earlier in the year, there was one reported instance of a UPS pilot who objected vigorously to a nose-and-throat COVID test in China, leading that Chinese officials threatened to revoke his visa.

While these restrictions may seem harsh, there has thus far been enough merit to call them out as being effective. Many countries in Asia have largely contained the virus while in places like the U.S., COVID-19 continues to spread comparatively freely. Many Asian countries have developed international arrival COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and quarantine regulations to help prevent the importation of the virus.

Wearing Diapers

On a more unusual note, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) recently published updated guidelines for airlines to help stop the spread of the virus. The CAAC recommended that flight attendants on charter flights wear disposable diapers to avoid using lavatories that passengers use.

The logic behind the policy is that lavatories are a highly trafficked area of aircraft. In addition, during the early days of the pandemic, there were many reports of health care workers contracting COVID-19 when removing their personal protective equipment and accidentally infecting themselves with the virus if they were anything short of perfect in following removal procedure.

After significant coverage, there have thus far been no updates or clarifications from the CAAC, and no airlines have gone further with the recommendation.

Hemal Gosai


  • Hemal Gosai

    Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.

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