United, Delta letting crew opt out of flights to Zika-hit countries

Top US airlines United and Delta are letting flight crew opt out of routes to Latin America and the Caribbean, the companies told Reuters, yesterday.

This follows flight crew voicing concern about contracting the Zika virus

The policies, that had so far gone unreported, point to the growing worries, after thousands of deaths, linked to the mosquito-borne virus, not only among airline passengers but also among flight attendants and pilots.

Reuters cited an internal memo dated 28 January from United saying expectant flight attendants as well as those seeking to become  pregnant could switch routes to avoid Zika-affected regions without repercussions. Similar options were available for pilots, Charles Hobart, the spokesman for parent United Continental Holdings Inc said.

Delta Air Lines Inc had also allowed flight attendants and pilots switch assignments since 17 January, and "a small number of crew members have swapped trips to date," spokesman Morgan Durrant told Reuters.

"We have immediate concern about our members' health," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

She added, the issue was changing at a fairly rapid pace, and it was important that those updates were ongoing. She added that airlines appeared to be responding faster to employee concerns than they did during past outbreaks, such as the spread of Ebola in 2014.

CNN Money quoted United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson, "The safety of our employees is paramount and providing this option was the right thing to do under these circumstances." 

According to Delta, it had been letting flight attendants and pilots swap out of scheduled flights to areas flagged by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for over two weeks.

"A small number of crew members have swapped trips to date," said Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant.

According to The World Health Organization,  the explosive spread of the Zika virus in the Americas was a "public health emergency of international concern."  It estimates that as many as 4 million people could be infected with it in the next year.''