A petition is circulating amongst Air France cabin crew, calling on the company’s bosses to halt flights to Sierra Leone and Guinea in light of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The Local is reporting that over 700 workers have signed the petition in just a few days.
British Airways and Emirates have already grounded flights despite requests from the Air Transport Association to the routes active. The Association cited advice from the World Health Organisation stating that aviation carries a low risk for Ebola transmissions as justification for the request. Ebola not an airborne virus, but rather is passed through contact with bodily fluids.
Air France runs four flights a week to Conakry in Guinea, and three a week to Freetown in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has been hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak with 775 laboratory confirmed cases; Guinea is the next most highly affected with 396 laboratory confirmed cases, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak has also affected Liberia and Nigeria. There have been more than 1200 deaths so far across all four countries.
The company has been taking the temperature of passengers before boarding to check for fever. Cabin crew have also received instructions on the precautions to take if a passenger is suspected of carrying the infection, including ensuring a toilet is reserved for that person, and kits including gloves, face masks, and alcohol to use as disinfectant. It has also given staff the right to refuse to work on those flights.
However, Air France employees are sceptical. Patrick Henry-Haye, who organised the petition, told Le Figaro “We know full well that people with the virus can take up to three weeks to develop the symptoms”. Another employee interviewed by Le Parisien added “We are afraid. We know that this is a risky career – countries at war, dictators, ok, but this [Ebola]… It’s different”.
Meanwhile, the response to the outbreak from Western leaders has been criticised by aid workers operating in the area. Speaking to The Guardian, Brice de la Vigne, Operations Director of Médecins Sans Frontières said “Globally, the response of the international community is almost zero. Leaders in the west are talking about their own safety and doing things like closing airlines – and not helping anyone else.”