Unions representing Air France employees are calling on the airline to halt its flights to and from the West African countries that are grappling with the worst Ebola outbreak ever.
The National Union of Air France (SNGAF), which represents flight crew, is circulating an online petition that says the flights pose a serious health risk and are putting a significant amount of stress on employees. More than 1,300 people have died during the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Sophie Gorins, the secretary-general of the SNPNC union, which represents cabin crew, told AFP: ‘We know that our jobs put us at risk, but they are measured risks. This is completely out of control and the information is not the same from one day to the next.’ Some workers are refusing to board planes bound for the affected countries, a spokesman for the airline said.
Air France crew members have been trained to deal with infectious diseases such as Ebola, and aircraft are outfitted with special containment gear.
The airline offers daily service to Conakry, Guinea and Lagos, Nigeria, and three to five flights a week to Freetown, Sierra Leones and two other destinations in Nigeria. A handful of carriers have stopped flying into and out of countries affected by the outbreak.
Earlier this month, British Airways announced that it was suspended its service between Heathrow Airport and Monrovia, Liberia and Freetown, Sierra Leone. The UK airline followed the lead of Emirates, which became the first major international airline to cancel flights, and African carriers Arik and ASKY. Kenya Airways and Korean Air Lines have also halted flights to the region.
The current outbreak is believed to have started in Guinea last December. There is no proven treatment or vaccine.
The World Health Organisation said the risk of transmission of Ebola virus disease during air travel is low as it is not spread by breathing air from an infected person. The organisation said: ‘Transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, all unlikely exposures for the average traveller.
‘The risk of getting infected on an aircraft is also small as sick persons usually feel so unwell that they cannot travel and infection requires direct contact with the body fluids of the infected person.’ In one of its latest statements, WHO said it does not recommend any ban on international travel or trade.