A pilot for American Airlines Group has tested positive for the deadly coronavirus, a representative for the commercial carrier said.
The airline, however, has declined to say which routes or days the pilot most recently worked. The company has also declined to confirm when the pilot became ill.
According to the airline’s representative, the risk of transmission to passengers was low.
“American’s Chief Medical Officer and leaders from our pilots’ office have been in touch with our Dallas Fort Worth-based pilot who tested positive for COVID-19,” American Airlines said in a statement.
“We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials and are coordinating with them on all required health and safety measures,” the company said.
The pilot, who is based at the airline’s hub in Dallas-Fort Worth, is currently undergoing treatment, the American Airlines pilots’ union said in a statement released Thursday.
According to the union, they learned of the coronavirus case Wednesday night.
News of the incident has since sparked fears as to who in the industry will be the next to be diagnosed with the virus. American Airlines currently has about 15,000 pilots. (Related: Coronavirus spreads to Ecuador and the Republic of Ireland, both from passengers who flew commercial airlines)
Aviation consultant Robert Mann said the American case might be just the start of airline crew members falling ill from the deadly virus, echoing the sentiments of other people who are working in the industry.
“I’d be shocked if it didn’t occur more and more frequently as things go on,” Mann said, noting that many crew members such as flight attendants often still choose to fly even when they’re already feeling sick.
“The real concern is that crew members have a strong motivation—sometimes it’s financial and sometimes it’s fear of repercussions—to fly when they’re ill and they may think it’s a mild cold,” Mann said.
Apart from hospitals and healthcare facilities, airlines have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far infected more than 144,824 people and killed 5,398 people around the world, as of press time.
According to the S&P 500 index, major U.S. carriers tumbled by 20 percent at the close in New York on Thursday—a direct result of mass cancellations by worried passengers. According to industry experts, this is the worst since the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in which American fell 17 percent to $13.45, which is considered a record drop.
American Airlines, as a response to the drop in flights, will be suspending hiring to maintain their profits. The company also said they will be deferring classes for pilots, flight attendants and other workers starting March 23.
In addition, the airline has since announced that they will also be offering a two-week paid sick policy for all employees with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, as well as those who are quarantined.
The airline also said the number of flights to and from Europe and South America will also be changed to address the recent significant drop in demand.
The news about the pilot’s infection comes days after President Donald Trump’s decision to restrict trips from Europe to the U.S. in light of the recent uptick in coronavirus infections in the continent. The limits are to last for at least 30 days.
For more stories and up-to-date information about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, visit Pandemic.news.