We are well into the COVID-19 pandemic, and my airline just sent out a memo reminding everyone that flu season is coming while imploring us not to come to work if we are sick.

In the past, this would only happen if the flu was running rampant, but this year there is an added sense of urgency. And, because we have to have our temperature checked every day, it begs the question of how to handle an illness of any sort while on a trip.

Nobody wants to be “the reason” for a cancellation or stranding a planeload of passengers somewhere. But that said, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. I was on a trip once many years ago, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a case of food poisoning that was so bad that the flu would have been a welcome improvement. The vomiting and diarrhea were so bad that I quickly became dehydrated and it was at least an hour before I could stay on the phone long enough to call the company and my crew. I felt awful for nixing the flight, but I was just in no shape to fly.

So, what do you do if you do get sick? Or if someone in your crew is sick? First is to let someone know: the front desk, the company, a fellow crew member. You don’t need to offer drastic details, but you need to tell someone. A crew member can call Scheduling for you and can work with the front desk to arrange for you to keep your room. If you decide to call the company, don’t commit to anything with respect to when you will be ready to return to work, and don’t try to self-diagnose anything. Just tell them that you’re too ill to fly, and get off the phone.

If you’re the healthy member of the crew, you can call the company on behalf of your partner and explain that they are sick, and even if they wanted to fly, you’re not going to let them.

Once you call in sick, you’re sick. You can’t allow yourself to be talked back into going to work. The FAA will have you for lunch. If your partner is clearly ill, you need to help them determine if they need to get to a hospital. Most of the time, the answer will be no, but if you aren’t convinced that they are doing well, then you should make arrangements to get them to an emergency room. Going to the ER in the middle of the night is never any fun, but I can tell you from too many experiences that it is the best time of day to go, since it will be pretty quiet and slow. You can be in and out fairly quickly, or quickly attended to and admitted. If it is your crew member, somebody from the crew should try to accompany them.

In addition to the company, it’s also critical that you notify the spouse of the ill person, because the company might try to beat you to the punch. You also need to get word to the rest of the crew, though company policy might dictate that Scheduling handle that. If everyone is on the same floor at the hotel, you can slide notes under the doors. You might also need to coordinate with the front desk on keeping the rooms. If the hotel is in a busy period such as a convention or a trade show, then you need to get on this lickety split and be prepared to change hotels if they are sold out.

Getting sick on the road is no fun, but if you do this long enough, it will happen to either you or someone on your crew. Be ready so that you can minimize the disruption and keep the sick person comfortable.—Chip Wright