Saturday, October 30, 2021

As travel begins to rebound, are employees of Indian airlines vaccinated?

In August, United Airlines became the first American carrier that required all its domestic employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. United was so insistent on the vaccination drive that it moved to lay off employees who refused to get jabs. It has also since tried to use it as a competitive advantage.

In the early days of the pandemic, before flights were halted and vaccines had been developed, airline pilots and crew were exposed to the virus as they continued to fly. Even after scheduled international flights were halted by India, Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara and Go First continued to operate international flights under the Vande Bharat scheme.

Over the course of the pandemic, some airline staff have paid a heavy price for not being vaccinated. In June this year, well after vaccines had become available, agencies reported that 17 pilots from private carriers and Air India had succumbed to Covid-19 in the previous month.

Despite this, airlines in India have not issued a vaccine diktat for employees. Compliance though has been high and there has been little resistance, unlike in the United States, according to airline executives Moneycontrol spoke to.

To be sure, airlines need to ensure that their staff, particularly pilots and cabin crew, are fully vaccinated, for their own protection as well as for the safety of passengers.

According to a CNBC report, researchers have found that the risk of infection on airplanes is lower if Covid-19 rules are adhered to strictly. However, they noted that new variants could pose a danger.

The report said that currently, the danger of transmission is highest during meal services as well as boarding and departure procedures.

On October 24, IndiGo said 100 percent of its employees and those of subsidiary Agile have been vaccinated with the first dose. “... 65 percent of them have been fully vaccinated (with both doses),” a statement by the airline said, adding that 90 percent of its pilots and 84 percent of its cabin crew are fully vaccinated. IndiGo is the market leader with a 57 percent share in the domestic market.

Agile is a subsidiary of IndiGo, set up in 2017 to provide airport and ground handling services. There are an estimated 14,000 personnel working on contract for the subsidiary.

A SpiceJet spokesperson said that all staff have been vaccinated but declined to get into specifics, while a spokesperson for Vistara said 85 percent of its over 4,000 staff had been vaccinated with both doses. “Among frontline staff (cabin crew and pilots), 88 percent are fully vaccinated with both doses,” the Vistara spokesperson said.

AirAsia India said it has been actively conducting vaccination drives and has inoculated 100 percent of its staff members with the first dose and 90 percent of eligible employees with the second dose. AirAsia’s estimated staff strength is about 2,800 personnel. The airline says it was the first to operate flights with a fully vaccinated crew earlier this year.

Similarly, 95 percent of Go First’s inflight crew had taken the first jab, while 86 percent had been vaccinated with the second dose, a spokesperson for the airline, formerly known as Go Air, said.

Air India did not respond to inquiries for this article.

30/10/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontrol

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