How furloughed flight attendants are helping an overwhelmed healthcare system

With healthcare workers and other essential employees stretched critically thin around the world, some furloughed flight attendants in Europe are now helping taxed doctors and nurses care for coronavirus patients. Since flight attendants are required to complete medical training to handle minor emergencies while in the air, as well as keep their cool during difficult situations, this plan makes sense.

As airlines across the world are forced to issue mass layoffs or temporary furloughs due to most international and domestic flights being grounded indefinitely, this is an untapped resource more countries could be taking advantage of—even if the flight attendants who are still employed are scared but working harder than ever.

Just weeks after Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) announced a temporary work reduction on March 15 that affected 90% of its employees, the company revealed on Twitter that a group of cabin crew members had volunteered to help healthcare workers.

Filip Palmgren, a 21-year old who lost his job of two years as a flight attendant, told the Associated Press that he signed up to work in a hospital out of civic duty when he got the offer from his former employer. “I immediately replied to the email,” he said. “I felt this was a very huge opportunity for me to help and to contribute to society and help the healthcare, which I think is very important in these times.”

In the United Kingdom, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet are also working with the National Health Service to staff nearly a half-dozen new hospitals opening specifically to accommodate coronavirus patients. Those employees will handle basic tasks such as changing beds, tending to patients, and assisting onsite medical workers.

“We are very proud of our highly skilled people at Virgin Atlantic,” chief customer officer Corneel Koster told NPR. “Since the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced, we have been inundated with our employees looking to help other organizations at this time of crisis.”

Although there are no immediate plans to replicate these initiatives in the U.S., Julie Hedrick, the national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, does not rule it out.

“We are having conversations with our leaders in Washington to discuss utilizing interested flight attendants to lend a hand during this crisis,” she said. “We know there is interest among the American Airlines Flight Attendant group, and we stand ready to assist.”

Sources: NPR, AP, New York Times

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