Monday, January 18, 2021

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A first-hand account from cabin crew during a global pandemic

Dutch cabin crew attendant Sandra Eckebus has been a flight attendant for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for 24 years. From the moment she started at KLM she knew that working in the sky was perfect for her! Fast foward to 2020 where COVID-19 hit and turned the world, and the aviation industry, upside down. We chatted to Sandra to find out what it’s been like as cabin crew during a global pandemic as well as getting her top tips for anyone intending to travel again in the coming months.

How has the Covid-19 lockdown impacted you with most flights being grounded for several months?
The impact of COVID-19 is enormous. The future is uncertain and it affects you a lot mentally. Last year we celebrated KLM’s 100th anniversary and everything went well. The flights were always fully booked. And then there is COVID-19 and suddenly you are at home and not understanding what is happening to the world. You try to soften it with the comment: “I will just enjoy the extra free time”. I flew again after 2 1/2 months and that is a long time to have not been in the air if you are used to flying every week. From the beginning of April I was only allowed to fly a few times, 6 times I think. I have missed the many flights, colleagues and passengers enormously in recent months.

As an air hostess, how does it feel to be back in the air?
Being back in the sky feels like coming home again. I am very happy that flying is picking up again and that I am getting more flights on my schedule. Sometimes I have to think back to the time when I just flew and eagerly looked forward to the next flight.

Now that flights have resumed, what are some of the new protocols that have been implemented?
Now that we are flying a bit more and COVID-19 is still not yet under control, we are dealing with protocols that are very strict. Every country has different measures that we must adhere to and which change all the time. All airlines, including Air France-KLM, are governed by strict civil aviation regulations. Together with Airport and Civil Aviation authorities, Air France-KLM have prepared and implemented new protocols and procedures so that travellers are assured of a safe environment whilst at the Airport and in the air. For all Air France-KLM flights, worldwide, all passengers are required to wear a face mask for the duration of the flight. Additional hygiene equipment, such as hand sanitizers, are available on board, and the aircrafts are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using suitable cleaning agents.

Air in the cabin is renewed every 3 minutes and HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, these are used to filter 99.9% of the smallest viruses, including the Coronavirus. Crucially, cabin air is not circulated around the aircraft in a way that would allow the virus to reach other passengers. Air is sucked out of the cabin using vents in the floors, passed through the HEPA filters, mixed with fresh air from the outside and injected back in through air outlets and individual vents. This vertical movement of air forms a protective barrier between rows, making it highly unlikely that the virus could pass between passengers. All Air France-KLM aircraft are equipped with HEPA filters to ensure that cabin air is as safe as it can possibly be.

What safety measures are in place for yourself and your colleagues, especially with some countries requiring a negative covid result upon entry?
Flying to destinations is of course not like it used to be. Some destinations have travel warnings and we may enter as a crew, but will have to adhere to the rules that are imposed on us. For example, we would stay in airport hotels so that we do not have to travel into the city, and at some destinations we are not allowed to leave our hotel room for the duration of our stay. Face masks are mandatory everywhere as soon as you leave the room. We also have to complete a health declaration form for each destination and even do a preventive COVID test for some destinations. Of course we all wear a face mask as soon as we get together as a crew, during the entire flight and we keep enough distance from each other and from passengers where we can.

What are some of the tips you can provide travellers with?
Tips for the passengers; don’t be afraid to fly. There are very strict health and safety protocols in place. Try to surrender to the fact that a mask is essential – in your day to day life and when travelling. Limit walking and toilet use and wash your hands a lot. We try to give passengers a bit more space on less occupied flights. This is often already done by the ground staff. KLM is very serious and strict about the directives in order to prevent spreading COVID-19. Also make sure you carry enough face masks for the duration of your journey. Traveling is no longer the same as before COVID-19. Therefore, make sure that you read all information carefully before departure and that you have completed all mandatory forms.

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