My partner works for a major airline. They have tens of thousands of people that come into contact with travellers every day. Here are some aspects of flight attendants in particular that make them worthy of being examined for possible clues about the new coronavirus:
1. It is impossible for a flight attendant (FA) to lie about being ill. They are a fairly unique professional group. For most of us if we feel unhealthy, it is just an excuse at work or an email from home and we disappear off the grid. I could be writing this while burning with a fever and you would be none the wiser. FAs are in very public scrutiny for many hours before and after every flight. The FAs flying to and from China since last November when this outbreak begun were at the airport many hours before and after flights and had to go through a number of check points. If one was burning with fever they would have been flagged.
2. It is also impossible for a FA to be ill with this coronavirus and all their colleagues not to know about it. They are a tight knit bunch with intense social media (chat groups) to solve every day issues. Even on their Facebook groups they often post about minor medical issues. Especially for American based FAs it is completely impossible that one would have coronavirus symptoms and at least 5-6 people would not be instantly alerted.
So for starters it is a group of people that is impossible to under report. It is also a pretty large sample size. Let’s look at their daily grind for clues:
1. They are in close proximity to 100-200 people in every flight for many hours.
2. Before the outbreak they wore no gloves or protective equipment.
3. Airplanes have no particularly special air filtration systems (for viruses).
4. Airplanes are stationary, full of people and FAs for several hours in total, often without air conditioning working at zero altitude. (In case you had some theory about cosmic rays killing corona virus.) So even if a pressurized cabin impedes the circulation of water vapour it isn’t always pressurized.
If someone more expert than me on air travel thinks about it, there are probably a dozen more factors like the above. And someone more expert than me should really look into the fact that so far only one flight attendant has contracted coronavirus. Maybe there are valuable clues in this (pretty large) sample of professionals for a fast solution to what needs to be done.
(In terms of cases of flight attendants with coronavirus, at the time of writing I can find only two. One Korean and one Japan Air.)