Chicago Pilots and Flight Crew: Were You Exposed to the New Coronavirus at Work?

The coronavirus pandemic has put employees of certain industries, including Chicago’s pilots and flight crews at a higher risk of contracting the virus while working. When a person’s employment increases the risk of a “proximity caused” disease, it may be able to obtain workers’ compensation.

Infectious Diseases May Be Covered Under Workers’ Compensation

Exposure to an infectious disease being covered under workers’ compensation is common within the health care and special education industries because it can be considered an “occupational disease.” However, when that infectious disease is considered an “ordinary disease of life” that the general public is equally exposed to the outside of employment, then it is not considered compensable. However, for pilots and flight crews, their travels put their coronavirus exposure into the category of a proximately caused disease, which should be covered under workers’ compensation.

Are Pilots and Flight Crews at a Higher Risk of Catching the Coronavirus?

Almost every person is at risk of catching the coronavirus. However, pilots and especially flight crews are at a higher risk of being infected on the job. Being in close contact with a wide variety of travelers who may have unwittingly or knowingly been exposed to the virus puts these aviation professionals at risk. This then puts not only airline workers at risk, but also future passengers they may have contact with.

Many pilots and flight crews are also put at a higher risk because of their employer’s current policies regarding layovers and off-time. Before the suspension of flights to international hot spots for the virus, pilots and crews were subjected to additional risk by being required to stay in these areas during their downtime.

DOT Recognizes the Risk of Airline Policies to Flight Crews

Before travel bans halted flights, the Allied Pilots Association filed a lawsuit against American Airlines to force the airline to temporarily suspend all flights to China as other major carriers had done. The reason for this was not the risk of contracting the virus while in flight, but because of the mandatory rest periods that forces crews to spend extended time in affected countries. Crews had been required to spend approximately 32 hours on the ground in-between flights in China.

On March 16, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued directives for airline flight crews because of the coronavirus. Carriers should provide private transport for crews to travel between hotels and airports. The DOT has urged airlines to ensure that the hotel rooms used for layovers must be sanitized before crews arrive and that all workers on layovers be given hand-sanitizer that has at least a 60 percent alcohol base. Additionally, airlines must ensure that their crew members know how to contact health officials if they become coronavirus symptomatic.