Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19)

Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19)

Updated January 21, 2021

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. This page contains the latest information on the outbreak and resources for aviation's first responders. 

1. COVID-19 Overview
2. Crew Actions Following COVID-19 Exposure
3. AFA and Airline Industry
4. AFA Resources: Coping, Finances, Support System
5. Union Action to Combat COVID-19  
6. Latest News and Media Resources
7. Resources for Flight Attendants to Guard Against the Spread of Infection
8. Government Action

1. COVID-19 Overview

The virus, which has now infected more than 95,612,831 and killed at least 2,066,176 people, has spread rapidly to more than 222 countries, including the U.S. The World Health Organization has labeled it a global pandemic. 

Symptoms of COVID-19

  • Common: fever, tiredness, and dry cough.
  • Some may have: aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.
  • Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell. However, this makes the spread harder to contain and puts others at risk.

According to the World Health Organization, studies to date suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air.

2. Crew Actions Following COVID-19 Exposure

If you learn that you have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, call your physician and follow their instructions. Do not go to a doctor's office unless advised to do so. 

Report to AFA Exposure to COVID-19 >

The CDC guidance to passengers who have come in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case on their flight, is to self-quarantine, contact health 

authorities, and monitor health for 14 days. The guidelines provide an exemption for crew. AFA does not agree with this guidance. We advise all Flight Attendants in these situations to follow the passenger CDC guidance and advise the company that you do not feel safe to fly. Self-quarantine for 14 days, contact your local health authorities, and monitor for symptoms. AFA is advising all airlines and contacting the FAA, CDC, and lawmakers to get CDC guidance updated. 

State and Local Health Department Contact Numbers >
If in Guam, call 671-735-7143; after hours and weekends, 888-WARN (9276).

Interim Health Guidance from FAA and CDC (COVID-19) > (Updated guidance on April 17, 2020)

3. AFA and Airline Industry 

As this virus spreads, AFA leadership continues to press airlines for proper resources and procedures to mitigate risk to working crews. While airlines have not fully implemented AFA’s recommendations, management has taken actions that exceed CDC guidelines and instruction. Immediate Operational Actions to Stop Spread of COVID-19 >

Airlines are also consistently assessing pull down of flying to infected regions and AFA is working to ensure Flight Attendants are receiving contractual pay and rescheduling protections. There is on-going assessment of the schedule, risk mitigation and passenger demand. AFA has been and is currently calling for a halt to leisure travel and coordinated efforts to limit passenger flights to essential service only. We want you to know we are resolute about this, but it is not an easy task and we support our airlines and our government in navigating this complicated but necessary planning.

The reduction of flying has had an economic effect on Flight Attendants at some airlines. AFA leaders at each airline are working directly with airline management through our contracts and other means to mitigate the impact to Flight Attendants.

4. AFA Resources: Coping, Finances, Support System

Contact AFA’s Employee Assistance Program: 1-800-424-2406

5. Union Action to Combat COVID-19  


Tell Congress: Extend the CARES Act Payroll Support Program

June 29 — The virus continues to be a threat to our health, jobs, and industry. Domestic demand for air travel is not expected to return until well into 2021. Passenger travel is still only about 20% of what it was last year, while international travel is currently restricted and predicted to take years to recover. Without an extension of the Payroll Support Program there will be hundreds of thousands of aviation workers who lose our jobs on October 1.

We are calling for a six month aviation Payroll Support Program extension through March 31, 2021, to protect our jobs, extend the restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends, and executive compensation, and maintain service to all of our communities. All of aviation labor is standing together to call on Congress to pass a clean extension of the Payroll Support Program before the summer recess at the end of July. Waiting until September for this action is too late because October planning will be done and hundreds of thousands of workers will already be told they are out of work. We need urgent action on this now. 

Aviation Unions Call for Extension of Payroll Support Program

June 25 — In a letter to Congressional leadership, the leaders of AFA, We Are ALPA, Communications Workers of America, Machinists Union, Transport Workers Union (TWU), and TTD, AFL-CIO are calling on lawmakers to extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP) in the CARES Act through March 31, 2021. Read the letter >

AFA Letter to DOT/HHS: Plan for a Safe and Stable Recovery of the Airline Industry

June 1 — We urge DOT to convene immediately a COVID 19 Air Travel Recovery Task Force to develop effective mitigations to ensure the health and safety of passengers and aviation employees during the pandemic, and a follow on plan to put the industry on a path to recovery.

The COVID-19 Air Travel Recovery Task Force should include representatives from the DOT, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), airlines, unions, and other stakeholders. Such clear, coordinated direction and action from the federal government and industry stakeholders will speed recovery of our aviation infrastructure and ensure that workers and the traveling public are not exposed to unnecessary, preventable health risks. Read the full letter to DOT/HHS >


Flight Attendants Respond to Sen. Warren’s Letter Slamming Delta Air Lines for Cutting Employee Hours After Receiving Payroll Grants

May 22, 2020 — AFA responded to the letter that Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) sent to Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian raising serious concerns about their decision to cut the hours of their employees after receiving financial assistance under the CARES Act. Read more about why this matters for all Flight Attendants > 

Treasury Department’s Inaction Will Cost 350 Jobs It Was Directed to Save through CARES Act

May 11, 2020 — Miami Air International, a charter airline founded in 1990 that today employs 350 people in the Miami area, including 150 Flight Attendants represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA), will liquidate as early as Wednesday entirely due to the impact of COVID-19. All 350 Miami Air employees will be immediately laid off and lose healthcare at the end of May because Secretary Mnuchin failed to respond to the airline’s application for payroll grants. Read more >

Involuntary Reduction in Hours Side-Steps Congressional Intent for CARES Act

May 6, 2020 — The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is held the hearing titled: "The State of the Aviation Industry: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic."

AFA has submitted the letter for the record addressing essential worker status for Flight Attendants, necessary safety protections and the status of the payroll support program. We raised a key issue: the undermining of the CARES Act by a couple airlines who are involuntarily cutting hours in violation of the Act. Read more >

The Biggest Threat to Our Jobs is the Virus

May 5, 2020 — The largest threat to Flight Attendants, passengers and aviation as a whole is the virus itself. Never before has aviation experienced a financial storm such as this with demand dropping overnight more than 90%. Without federal funding the entire industry would have collapsed, with no way to even plan forward because the emergency conditions are not over. Read more >

Passing of Spirit Flight Attendant Jay Harris

It is with great sadness that we report that on May 2nd, 2020, Spirit Flight Attendant Jay Harris died from complications from COVID-19. Jay has been a part of our AFA Spirit Family as a Fort Lauderdale Flight Attendant since 2008 and is survived by his wife Ellen. Read more about Jay >

Resources While on Reduced or Unpaid Status >


Implementation of Payroll Grants

AFA Tells the FAA: No Minimum Staffing Reductions

April 3 — Since this was raised in a public forum, we want to be clear and on the record: AFA opposes any efforts to reduce FAA minimums. FAA minimums were fought for and achieved long ago.They are in place to ensure aviation safety during normal operations. Cabin crew must remain fully prepared and ready to act in response to a multitude of emergencies and potential emergency evacuation scenarios that could suddenly occur on any flight.

Any proposed flight attendant staffing reductions based on load factors would set a dangerous precedent, are not in the public interest, and must be denied. Flights should stay on the ground or be designated as cargo only if we aren’t carrying passengers. That is, in fact, the best way to reduce exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Read the letter to the FAA >

AFA Urges FAA to Order Airline Compliance with CDC Guidance on Test Positive Notification
April 2 — Our members have observed an uneven, often less than satisfactory response to the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic by some airlines. We are therefore writing to support the attached letter dated March 31, 2020, sent by Captain Joe DePete, President of ALPA, to Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson, with the subject Request for Immediately Effective Order, Directive or Regulatory, Requirement Ordering Air Carrier Compliance with CDC Guidance. We concur fully with Captain DePete’s observation that an “urgent FAA order, directive or regulatory requirement is needed because ‘guidance’ from the … CDC is not mandatory and is not being consistently followed.” Read the letter to the FAA >

Flight Attendants Tell Treasury: Payroll Grants Are for the Workers

April 1 — AFA International President Sara Nelson, representing Flight Attendants at 20 airlines, APFA National President Julie Hedrick, representing American Airlines Flight Attendants, and TWU 556 President Lyn Montgomery, representing Southwest Flight Attendants sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding he not exercise warrants on the CARES Act payroll grants that were designed to keep aviation workers on the job. Read the Letter >

CWA, representing customer service agents, and Teamsters, representing aviation workers across workgroups, joined our calls to Secretary Mnuchin.

April 5 — New York Times: Top Democrats Press Treasury to Accelerate Airline Bailout >


AFA was on Capitol Hill interfacing with lawmakers to advocate for financial relief for individual workers and airlines in a way that best combats the virus, promotes direct support of continued paychecks, healthcare, and financial viability of the airlines. We pushed for any relief to include restrictions on stock buy backs, dividends, executive bonuses, using funds in any way to undermine worker rights – in addition to other key provisions for long-term protections for workers, our families, our contracts, and our jobs. 

On March 27, the CARES Act became law. It provides $32B in direct payroll grants to the aviation industry. $25B is allocated for passenger airlines, $4B is allocated for cargo airlines, and $3B is allocated for contractors. The bill also authorizes DOT to make loans and loan guarantees of up to $25B for passenger carriers and $4B for cargo carriers. The bill also includes $10B in grants for airports.

  • The law mandates that payroll grant funds shall be used exclusively for the continuation of payment of wages, salaries and benefits for workers.
  • Recipients of grant funding cannot conduct involuntary furloughs or reduce pay rates and benefits until September 30, 2020.

"Flight Attendants across the U.S. thank Congress and the Administration for passing a #WorkersFirst aviation relief package that includes direct financial assistance for airline workers' wages and benefits. We will continue to work with lawmakers, the administration, and our airlines to ensure the bill is implemented as intended. The path forward will be extremely difficult, but this helps us work together on more solid ground. Read more >

March 14 Communication on Loss of Flying >


AFA and AFT, representing Flight Attendants, Nurses and Teachers, called on the U.S. government for a coordinated response on February 4, 2020.

AFA and CWA leadership are coordinating with the rest of the labor movement as we do all we can through our unions to prevent the spread of the virus, keep people safe in our workplaces and encourage employers to take steps that promote good information and encourage employees to prioritize health with good healthcare, sick leave and pay protections.


6. Latest News and Media Resources

AFA in the News: COVID-19 >

7. Resources for Flight Attendants to Guard Against the Spread of Infection

Q: What is it?

"[The COVID-19] virus is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it comes from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city." (Source: The Guardian)

Q: What are the symptoms?

For confirmed COVID-19 infections, symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

Q: How serious is it?

The COVID-19 virus is a global pandemic. The WHO is keeping a live infection count at

Q: How should I protect myself if I’m working a trip to/from an infected region?

CDC recommends the following measures for cabin crew to protect themselves, manage a sick traveler, clean contaminated areas, and take actions after a flight:

Practice routine hand-washing.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after assisting sick travelers or touching potentially contaminated body fluids or surfaces.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol) if soap and water are not available.

Follow standard precautions to prevent healthcare-associated infections

Identify sick travelers who meet the above description.

  • Minimize contact between passengers and cabin crew and the sick person. If possible, separate the sick person from others (6 feet is ideal) and designate one crew member to serve the sick person.
  • Offer a facemask, if available and if the sick person can tolerate it. If a facemask is not available or cannot be tolerated, ask the sick person to cover their mouth and nose with tissues when coughing or sneezing.

Treat all body fluids (such as respiratory secretions, diarrhea, vomit, or blood) as if they are infectious.

  • Wear disposable gloves when tending to a sick traveler or touching body fluids or potentially contaminated surfaces. Remove gloves carefully to avoid contaminating yourself, then wash hands.
  • When tending to a sick traveler from an infected region who has fever, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing, use additional protective equipment in the Universal Precaution Kit face mask, eye protection, and a gown to cover clothing.
  • Properly dispose of gloves and other disposable items that came in contact with the sick person or body fluids in biohazard bag or a secured plastic bag labeled as “biohazard.”

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces according to airline protocol.

Report, as soon as possible before arrival, by one of the methods described in the Guidance for Air Travel Industry Reporting of Onboard Death or Illnesses to CDC.

Review CDC’s Infection Control Guidelines for Cabin Crew

  • CDC recommends that companies review and update, as needed, their personal protection policies and communicate and train employees on how to manage sick travelers.

Q: How can I tell, and what should I do, if I might be infected?

If you develop a fever [Note: Fever may not be present in some patients, such as those who are very young, elderly, immunosuppressed, or taking certain fever-lowering medications] and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel from an infected region, you should call ahead to a healthcare professional and mention your recent travel or close contact.

If you have had close contact [Note: Close contact is approximately 6 ft, or being in a room with an ill person for a prolonged period of time without PPE] with someone showing these symptoms who has recently traveled from an infected region, you should call ahead to a healthcare professional and mention your close contact and their recent travel. Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.

8. Government Action

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