By Jim Preen, Director of Crisis Management at YUDU Sentinel
There’s nothing like a new buzzword to get the media excited and ‘Covidiot’ gained immediate traction as soon as it was coined and was quickly splattered all over the front pages.
So, who are the Covidiots? In the minds of newspaper editors in search of a good splash the Covidiots were the passengers on the Tui flight from Greece who didn’t wear face masks. Sixteen passengers have subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 and almost 200 are now in quarantine.
The headlines told the story
- Daily Mirror: Tui Zante outbreak plane ‘full of ‘Covidiots’ who took off masks
- Metro: ‘Selfish covidiots’ refused to wear masks on infected Tui flight from Zante
- Telegraph: Tui flight from Zante to Cardiff full of ‘Covidiots’, says passenger
- Scotsman: All passengers on a TUI flight from Greece forced to quarantine and branded ‘Covidiots’
Currently face masks are compulsory on all flights and at airports unless a passenger has a doctor’s note saying they are exempt.
Stephanie Whitfield, a passenger on the Tui flight, told BBC Radio 4 that many passengers were not wearing masks while others were “taking the masks off to talk to friends and they were going up and down the aisles to talk to their friends without their masks on.”
She said she witnessed one member of the cabin staff ask a passenger to put on her mask, but most did nothing.
Lee Evans told the BBC that at Zante airport ground crew were handling passenger’s phones to check boarding cards and, in his words, it was a ‘free for all to get on the plane.’
Various passengers have come forward to say it took a week to be told about the need to self-isolate. One said: “We should have been told to isolate before we got off the plane. We only found out from the news that this had happened. Five days later, I can’t tell you how many people I have had contact with.”
Tui executives must be wiping beads of sweat from their collective foreheads. A group of people engaged in a single thought: Phew the passengers are catching it in the neck and not us. Well hold on Tui, not so fast.
Once the story broke Tui put out an anodyne statement saying: ‘Our crew are trained to the highest standards’ and they were investigating the incident.
It goes without saying that Tui has a duty of care when it comes to their passengers, but don’t they also have a duty of responsibility? Tui and the rest of the airline sector must be part of the global effort to stop the spread of the pandemic. One Tui passenger remarked: “There were used wipes in my seat pocket when I got on, so the plane wasn’t as clean as they said.”
Cabin crew may not want to get into arguments with passengers and it may make them uncomfortable insisting that passengers wear masks, but that is now a tricky part of what is often a tough job. If stewards don’t make passengers comply, it could come back to bite them if flights are grounded once again and they find themselves out of a job.
Of course, it’s unfair to place all the blame on the crew. This type of direction must be supported by management. The crew will need training to carry out this task and must feel confident that when times get tough the bosses have their back.
Many are saying that the passengers who are now moaning about self-isolation have nobody but themselves to blame. There’s some truth in that, but Tui and the other airlines must come together and enforce the rules, have their planes cleaned properly and make sure ground staff comply with social distancing.
When the smoking ban in pubs, restaurants and workplaces was introduced in 2007, many were sceptical about whether it would work or just be ignored. It worked right off the bat. Not wearing a facemask on a flight should be just as socially unacceptable as lighting up a cigar after take-off.
So, who are the real Covidiots, the passengers or the airline? The government makes the rules and airlines, should they wish to continue trading, need to look to their responsibilities and enforce them.