Cabin safety bulletin 22 Protocol to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in returning to line operations

This bulletin applies to operators of Australian-registered aircraft, cabin crew and passengers.

Period of effectivity

Effective date: December 20

Removal from circulation: December 21.

What is the purpose of this bulletin?

The purpose of this bulletin is to provide enhanced health and safety guidance to operators as increasingly cabin crew members are required to operate expanded crew rosters.

Protocol that should continue to be observed and/or implemented by operators for the protection of crew members and passengers have been included in this bulletin, drawn from the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Civil Aviation Authority United Kingdom and Australian Government Department of Health.

This bulletin describes an example of an acceptable means, but not the only means, of demonstrating compliance with regulations and standards. On its own this bulletin does not change, create, amend or permit deviations from regulatory requirements, nor does it establish minimum standards.

A cabin safety bulletin is an advisory document that alerts, educates and makes recommendations about cabin safety matters. Recommendations in this bulletin are not mandatory.


As border and travel restrictions are gradually eased, operators should be cognisant of preventive measures to be developed and implemented as the resumption of line operations increases. Crew members will need to operate under these new and/or modified procedures.

Operators have a responsibility to consistently evaluate protocol and preventive measures introduced in response to COVID-19 against evolving domestic and international health advice commensurate with their type of operation.

Health monitoring

  • Crew members should monitor themselves for fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Crew members should, at any time they feel unwell, measure their temperature at least twice per day during a duty period.
  • Should a crew member develop a fever, shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19, they must stay at home or in their hotel room, notify the operator and should not return to work until cleared by a medical doctor.

Crew member exposure concerns

Exposure concerns include the following:

  • crew members are within a required quarantine period related to previous travel and/or duty
  • irrespective of symptoms, crew member has tested positive for COVID-19
  • realise they have been exposed to a person showing symptoms of COVID-19
  • experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms
  • recovered from COVID-19 symptoms, however, has not been assessed by a medical doctor.

Health protection

In order to protect the health of all colleagues and passengers, crew members should:

  • follow the protocol and precautions promulgated by relevant health authorities relating to COVID-19
  • prior to the commencement of each flight, inspect and verify the contents of universal precaution kits (UPK), as these kits may be needed to provide care to an unwell passenger inflight
  • avoid contact with any individual who has a cough, fever, sore throat or shortness of breath or otherwise suspected of having COVID-19
  • maintain the recommended physical distance from others where possible, when working in the aircraft cabin, for example, seated at the crew station during take-off or landing, during ground transportation and while in a public place
  • wear a face mask while around other individuals, especially in situations where the recommended physical distance from others cannot be maintained
  • in concert with frequent hand washing/sanitisation, crew members should be reminded of the need to avoid touching their face wherever possible, including while wearing gloves.
  • if a crew member does not have visibly soiled hands, the preferred method of cleaning them is use of an alcohol-based hand rub for 20–30 seconds using the appropriate technique. If a crew member has visibly soiled hands, they should be cleaned by washing with soap and water for a period of 40–60 seconds using the appropriate technique.

Operators should provide guidance material to passengers regarding the application of the preventive measures on board aircraft including:

  • hand hygiene, particularly before eating or drinking and after using the lavatory
  • appropriate use of face masks
  • respiratory etiquette
  • limiting contact with cabin surfaces
  • reduced in-flight service
  • reducing the use of the individual air-supply nozzles to the maximum extent possible, unless otherwise recommended by the aircraft manufacturer.

Assistance to an unwell passenger

The pilot in command should be advised of any cabin crew member or passenger presenting with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, as soon as practicable.

Cabin crew who are in contact with a passenger suspected of being infected should not visit the flight deck unless operationally necessary.

After take-off, if a passenger presents with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19, the following should be considered:

  • Cabin crew should ensure the passenger is wearing their face mask properly and has additional face masks available in case the one they are using becomes wet after coughing or sneezing. If a face mask cannot be tolerated, the symptomatic passenger should cover their mouth and nose with tissues when coughing or sneezing. If the passenger is having difficulty breathing, medical assistance should be sought and oxygen supply offered.

The passenger should be isolated and to the extent that is practicable:

  • an isolation area should be defined, leaving, if possible, two rows of seats unoccupied in each direction around the symptomatic passenger.
  • where possible, the symptomatic passenger should be seated in the last row window seat, preferably on the side where the outflow valve is situated.
  • where possible, the lavatory closest to the symptomatic passenger should be specifically designated for them and should not be used by the rest of the passengers or the cabin crew.
  • depending on the composition of the cabin crew, the senior cabin crew member should designate certain cabin crew member(s) to provide the necessary in-flight service to the isolation area(s). These cabin crew member(s) should be the one(s) who had previously been in close contact with the symptomatic passenger. The designated cabin crew member(s) should use the PPE that is available in the aircraft’s UPK. The designated cabin crew member(s) should minimise any non-essential close contact with the other cabin crew members and avoid unnecessary contact with the passengers.
  • Where possible, the individual air-supply nozzle for the symptomatic passenger should be turned off to limit the potential spread of respiratory droplets.
  • If the symptomatic passenger is accompanied, their companion(s) should be also confined in the isolation area, even if they do not exhibit any symptoms.
  • After the aircraft has landed and all other passengers have disembarked, the isolated symptomatic passenger and, where applicable and their companion(s), should be disembarked and managed in accordance with the instructions provided by respective health authorities.
  • Passengers who were seated two (2) seats in every direction from the suspected case are considered close contacts and will need to be interviewed by the entry country public health authorities if the suspected case is confirmed. If contact tracing discovers more case(s) around the index case, then contact tracing of all the aircraft’s passengers should be considered.
  • The cabin crew member who was assigned to provide in-flight services to the symptomatic passenger, and other cabin crew members who may have been in direct or close contact with the symptomatic passenger, should be disembarked and managed in accordance with the instructions provided by the respective health authorities.
  • In coordination with the relevant health authorities, the operator should endeavour to receive information about the test result of the suspected case as soon as possible. The crew member(s) who provided in-flight services to the passenger with COVID-19-compatible symptoms should be considered a close contact and follow health authority advice.
  • If a passenger or cabin crew member exhibits COVID-19-compatible symptoms, all waste materials including partially consumed meals, beverages and disposable items such as used paper towels, tissues and PPE produced while treating or supporting the symptomatic passenger or the cabin crew member(s) who have been in close contact with them, should be treated in accordance with requisite health authority advice.
  • If a suspected passenger is identified onboard prior to take-off, the airport and the local health authorities should be informed and their instructions followed.

Other considerations

Aircraft and airport operators should cooperate to ensure that physical distancing is observed, wherever feasible, especially during check-in, security checks, pre-boarding and boarding. When the recommended physical distance is not possible (at least 1.5 metres) due to infrastructure or operational constraints, the aircraft operators and airport operators should implement and encourage adherence to additional risk-mitigating measures such as hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, use of face masks, enhanced boarding procedures, additional buses for boarding, etc.

  • In the pre-departure safety demonstration, passengers should be told to remove their face masks before using the cabin oxygen masks.
  • Operators should ensure aircrew remove their protective face mask in case of emergency, to communicate instructions to passengers or when using equipment such as portable breathing equipment when fighting a fire or managing a dangerous goods spill.
  • Operators should regularly inform passengers they should wear face masks for the entire flight and until they exit the destination airport, and the face mask should not be removed unless absolutely necessary. The face mask should be close to the face, covering the nose and mouth completely. When the face mask is on or being removed, the outer layer of the face mask must not be touched to avoid contamination. Furthermore, operators should inform passengers that face masks be properly disposed, not thrown on the cabin floor or placed in seat pockets or on seat covers.
  • In the event oxygen-dispensing equipment (i.e. therapeutic oxygen, drop-down oxygen masks and quick donning masks) is used during flight, it should be thoroughly disinfected afterwards.
  • Operators should implement measures that prevent passengers from queuing in the aisle or galleys for lavatory use. Furthermore, provided there is a sufficient number of lavatories in the cabin, operators should reserve a lavatory, preferably the closest one to the flight crew compartment, for aircrew use only.
  • Operators should reduce in-flight services to the minimum necessary to ensure passenger comfort and wellbeing and limit contact between cabin crew members and passengers. The following should be considered:
    • no duty free or other non-essential product sales
    • reduced food and beverage service, alcoholic drinks should be avoided
    • preference for pre-packed and sealed food and drink products, such as canned drinks
    • payment involving touch or contact, such as cash, should be avoided.
  • Passengers should be reminded to remain seated with their seat belt fastened as long as possible.
  • Disembarkation should be performed by rows, commencing with rows closest to the exits in use, in the aisle-middle-window seat order, or an alternative procedure that would ensure physical distancing to the maximum extent possible and prevent queuing.
    • NOTE: If the embarkation and disembarkation procedures are adapted, the operator should consider the possible adverse effect on the aircraft balance, to avoid tail tipping.
  • All facilities used in the embarkation/disembarkation process should be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Special attention needs to be given to the management of unruly or disruptive passengers in the context of the psychological pressure caused by the pandemic. Multi-layered actions should be considered, starting with passenger information and preparation about the measures in place, and giving attention to the procedures and aircrew actions that are necessary to mitigate such risk.
  • Operators should provide health safety promotion material describing all risk-mitigating measures in place, such as the use of face masks, hygiene measures, reduced in-flight services, air filtration, ventilation and exchange, to reassure passengers and increase their adherence to the implemented measures.

Health and wellbeing

  • This unparalleled period of change and disruption to established routine and circumstance may lead to high levels of uncertainty and other feelings such as anxiety, sadness, stress or depression.
  • The risk to safe operations is that this level of change to the environment may present additional stressors and diminish a person’s capacity and ability to perform or monitor themselves as effectively as would be normal. The impact, in terms of human factors and operational performance, is a compound risk.
  • It is important that operators provide appropriate assistance to all staff, particularly those who hold operational safety critical roles such as aircrew.
  • Human factors, performance and crew resource management principles promote mindfulness and high-reliability operating. Potentially, they equip individuals with a capacity for calm, unhurried reflection. In an operational context, this capacity can deliver important health and wellbeing benefits, including:
  • accommodation of distractions and stressors
  • recognition and identification of effects on performance
  • canvassing of opinion and receiving support
  • formulation of effective action plans.
  • Learning to manage distractions and stressors helps individuals to maintain focus and be ready for the unexpected. Recognition and identification of effects on performance (for example, concerns for the health and wellbeing of a colleague) supports effective working. Formulating an action plan keeps minds focused by structuring and directing activity and staying ahead of the task by making extra time to accommodate unusual or unexpected change.1
  • Stressors that manifest due to the COVID-19 pandemic may continue to vacillate due to various challenges that present and their effect on each individual. It is critical that operators maintain awareness and increased vigilance of operational safety critical personnel as they could potentially react adversely due to:
  • consequences of lockdown—including the effects on work patterns, travel, isolation, family care and health advice—that can impact mental and physical health
  • increased uncertainty about long-term effects, such as on job security
  • anxieties about competency checks after significant periods of absence from line operations e.g. recurrent programming or line checks.
  • Support programs are critically important; it remains essential that senior management of all aviation stakeholders, mental health professionals, trained peers and representative organisations of crew members work together to enable self-declaration, referral, advice, counselling and/or treatment, as necessary, when mental or wellbeing issues arise. Some considerations include:
  • Operators ensuring that peer support programs are available to safety critical personnel and, where possible, extend access to these programs for all staff that have been affected by organisational restructuring.
  • Ensure peer support programming is accessible to all categories of operational safety critical personnel, e.g. flight and cabin crew, engineering, ground handling personnel, etc.
  • Encourage collaboration between stakeholders as appropriate to ensure peer support programming is accessible to smaller operators or organisations who might not be able to implement their own support programming.
  • Provide education, training and promotional material to enhance physical and psychological health and wellbeing.

1Extract from SN-2020/014 Civil Aviation Authority United Kingdom Safety Notice 28JUL20.

More information

If you have an inquiry, please contact the cabin safety team on 131757 and ask to speak to a cabin safety inspector.

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