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Cabin crew swap aircraft aisles for hospitals in UK's coronavirus fight



London, United Kingdom  /  Tue, March 31, 2020  /  01:08 pm
Cabin crew swap aircraft aisles for hospitals in UK's coronavirus fight

Medical staff are seen outside the Excel Centre, London while it is being prepared to become the NHS Nightingale Hospital, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, on March 30, 2020. (REUTERS/John Sibley)

Britain's temporary hospitals are seeking volunteers from airlines, calling on cabin crew members who are currently grounded to use their first-aid skills and calm manner to help get the new Nightingale hospitals up and running.

Ashley Brown, 23, will soon swap easyJet's orange-trimmed grey suit and waistcoat for the blue plastic overalls of personal protective equipment after he signed up to help the National Health Service (NHS) fight coronavirus.

His first aid training and security clearance mean he is a desirable recruit for the new hospitals, as does his experience working in what can be a high-stress environment.

"When you're at 38,000 feet in the air and something does go wrong, which isn't often, but obviously, medically, things do go wrong, you have to think on your feet," said Brown.

Britain is building three new hospitals in London, Birmingham and Manchester, which it is naming after nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, to cope with an expected surge in coronavirus patients, but it needs back-up staff.

EasyJet has written to 9,000 staff, and Virgin Atlantic to around 4,000, to ask them to consider volunteering at a time when they cannot do their day jobs because air travel has come to a standstill.

Read also: British Airways cancels flights to Italy, Korea, Singapore as coronavirus hits demand

EasyJet said on Monday it had parked up all its 344 planes and laid off UK-based cabin crew for two months, meaning they will not work from April 1, but will get 80 percent of their average pay under a state job-retention scheme.

The NHS said volunteers would receive training and help doctors and nurses with changing beds and other non-clinical tasks.

Brown, who formerly worked for an NHS Trust in its stop-smoking services, says he loves the cabin crew job he's been doing for the past three years and is realistic about the pay cut he faces over the coming months.

"It is what it is, at the end of the day. I want to keep flying, I want to keep my job, the same as everybody else, so we're all more than happy to support our airline to get to where we need to be to return to flying," he said.

Asked about the risk of potentially being exposed to the virus by going into the new hospitals, he says the worry will be there in the back of his mind, but that's no different from his day job.

"The job I do, I have to think about safety every single day," he said.

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