To fly or not to fly?
Two studies came out last week raising questions about whether transmission of the coronavirus on lengthy commercial airline flights might be more common than was originally thought.
One of the studies examined 2 passengers and 2 flight attendants on the same 15- hour flight from Boston to Hong Kong who later tested positive for COVID-19. The findings showed that the genetic sequence for the virus in all four of those people was identical which strongly suggests the virus can be transmitted during air travel.
The second study looked at a 10-hour flight from London to Hanoi, Vietnam where 16 people that were on the flight were found to have the virus, 12 of them sitting in business class within a few seats or rows of the only symptomatic person. This study suggests that seating proximity was strongly associated with increased risk of infection.
Both of these results do not bode well for those of us who enjoy air travel. The news is full of stories about airlines that are using social distanced seating and others that are adding HEPA filtration systems to their planes. There are some conflicting stories from passengers about whether these policies are really enforced.
At the same time, major airlines are presenting new infection information about their employees. United claims its flight attendants have lower COVID-19 infection rates than the general public, which they believe speaks to the safety of their plans. Toby Envies, Chief Customer Officer at United notes that they have state of the art cleaning and safety measures, including a mandatory mask policy, antimicrobial and electrostatic spray along with HEPA air filtrations system. United has worked hard to provide safety for its customers.
Further, starting October 15, United Airlines will be pilot testing a program for travelers. Customers traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii will have the option to take a rapid COVID-19 test at the airport or a self-collected, mail in test ahead of their trip. Ideally, United hopes this type of program will make it easier for passengers to manage quarantine requirements and entry conditions to popular destinations around the world.
For this trial to begin, United Airlines worked closely with officials in Hawaii to be sure that any United customer on these flights would not be subjected to the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement. The rules allow visitors to avoid quarantine if they are tested no earlier than 72 hours before their flight arrives with an FDA approved nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). While they currently offer more flights to Hawaii than any other carrier does, they plan to increase service to Hawaii on October 15. Hawaii is also tentatively reopening to tourists on October 15.
The rapid COVID-19 test will be administered by Go Health Urgent Care, who has been administering its test to United’s international flight crews at San Francisco International Airport since July. The company will have on site testing at the airport where travelers will receive their results in 15 minutes. For the mail in version of the test, administered by a company called Color, passengers are encouraged to take the test at least 10 days before their trip and provide their sample within 72 hours of their departure. They can return the test via overnight mail or drop box at the airport. Obviously, if this program goes well, United will look to expand it to its other destinations. Surely other airlines will follow with similar types of testing. It seems essential for the industry to survive.
So, what about the airline industry in general? It will change, like everything else, it has to. If you pay attention to the current news at all, you will hear that if the federal government does not come up with a bailout for the airlines by October 1, some estimates are that as many as 225,000 airline workers will lose their jobs this fall. This is a sad reality.
With the new remote world of conducting business, business travel is going to shrink significantly. We are now able to conduct many business activities we previously only conducted in person. All travel has been reduced and will remain limited for many people out of well-founded concerns for safety. Given the probability of bankruptcies and consolidation, fewer airlines will be flying in the future. Consumers will have less choice for air travel. It will be completely reshaped, as it was after the Twin Tower Attacks and other economic downturns. Some experts believe that this is a short-term dim outlook and that it should help fuel another period of growth and profitability long term. COVID-19 has changed our lives in so many ways. Air travel and how we do it is clearly an example of that. As always, we are in this together.
We are Susan Ramsey and Amie Goldberg, both practicing attorneys and nurses here at the Romano Law Group. Here is a little more about each of us:
Susan Ramsey is both an attorney and an RN. Ms. Ramsey’s professional experience began as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. While pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree, she was a counselor with the New Haven Rape Crisis Program. During her time with the Program, Ms. Ramsey counseled sexual assault survivors and performed seminars for local police departments, universities, and high schools. During her time working as a registered nurse, Ms. Ramsey decided to attend law school. Ms. Ramsey graduated from CUNY Law School, and has practiced law in several different State and Federal Courts. She is a Florida Heath Care Risk Manager and a member of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force. Ms. Ramsey actively litigates cases involving catastrophic injuries and wrongful death on behalf of survivors, cases include injuries suffered by victims of professional negligence, product liability and medical negligence.
Amie Goldberg is both an attorney and a certified APRN. After completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Whittier College, Ms. Goldberg attended nursing school at Emory University. Ms. Goldberg’s professional experience started as a Registered Nurse at Egleston Children’s Hospital taking care of children with congenital heart disease. After a few years, she continued working in all areas of the hospital while attending Kennesaw State University on weekends in order to get her Master’s Degree in Nursing with a specialty of Primary Care Nurse Practitioner/Family Nurse Practitioner. During her time as an APRN, Ms. Goldberg decided to attend law school at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida. Since graduating, she has mainly practiced in the areas of personal injury and worker’s compensation, fighting for the rights of injured people. Since joining the Romano Law Group, Ms. Goldberg has been the Director of the Opioid Litigation Project. Ms. Goldberg also practices in the area of medical malpractice and nursing home negligence, bringing an inside perspective and knowledge to help get justice for our clients.