Vaccinated Air New Zealand crew spared hotel isolation on return from United States

Air crew returning from high-risk destinations will no longer have to stay for days in a taxpayer-funded Auckland hotel if they are vaccinated against Covid-19.

Pilots have welcomed the move as common sense given the success of vaccines in preventing the spread of Covid in the US, designated a high-risk country by the Ministry of Health.

The new rules will come into force from June 30 and New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association president Andrew Ridling said days of solitary isolation had been taking a toll on the mental health of some crew.

”From our perspective the wellbeing of our guys was really starting to take a hit.”

Unions and Air New Zealand had lobbied the Ministry of Health and Government to relax the rules requiring costly stays at the Grand Windsor Hotel which could stretch up to 60 hours.

The airline told staff that the exemption applied to any air crew who have operated on a flight on a “higher-risk” route and who is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Fully vaccinated means two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Unvaccinated crew flying higher-risk routes will have to self-isolate and test on return from duty and the airline said it was working with the ministry to clarify requirements for self-isolation including location, duration and testing requirements.

Staff were told the ministry had also decided to designate all routes longer than six hours as “higher-risk” (with the exception of Quarantine Free Travel routes to Australia and the Cook Islands).

This meant the requirement for unvaccinated air crew to self-isolate and test applies to all long-haul flights, not just San Francisco and Los Angeles (excluding Perth).

Ridling said close to 90 per cent of pilots were vaccinated but, like in other businesses, there were a ”handful” of anti-vaxxers.With added incentive to get the jab to avoid isolation he expected vaccination rates to increase further, he said.

”Our view is that everybody should be vaccinated but I don’t think it should be compulsory but I don’t know what should happen to those who don’t get vaccinated.”

Ridling said during the past 12 months one pilot had spent 140 days in isolation while another had been tested about 50 times for Covid-19 with a nasal swab.The rule changes meant an overnight trip to LA or San Francisco would no longer be an isolation endurance test of up to a week.

We haven’t had anyone leave but we’ve had guys who have had to stand themselves down because of the isolation.

One spent 140 days in isolation in the past 12 months, one pilot had 50 Covid tests.

”It’s starting to wear thin and Covid fatigue is starting to set in.”

While no members had left their jobs because of that pressure, some had stood themselves down from flights.

”A colleague may suggest to take off the next flight if they’re not looking too good and the company has been very good around that . There’s been no pressure put on our people.”

Air crew had faced flak in some places when they returned home, from people fearful they may be spreading Covid, which exacerbated the strain.

Ridling is a Dreamliner captain and flies to the US where last year airports were like ghost towns.

This had changed now that California was vaccinating itself out of the worst of the pandemic (nearly 60 per cent of the population over 12 have been fully vaccinated) although crew who fly there still needed to stay in their hotels to meet New Zealand requirements.

”We’re still locked in our hotel and wearing our PPE gear but looking out of the LA hotel inManhattan Beach which is right next to a golf course. It’s full and the freeways are full.
America’s opened up again,” he said.

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