Like many nations, Austria has seen thousands of its citizens stranded around the world.

At the request of the foreign ministry, Austrian Airlines has been making a series of repatriation flights to get those citizens safely back home.

In a post on the airline’s website, captain Reinhard Lernbeiss (below) provides a fascinating insight into the operation of these flights, and the challenges involved.

Rescue flights are stressful!

As well risking their own personal safety, Dr Lernbeiss describes how stressful these repatriation flights are to perform. He said:

“The return flights do not just expose you to an increased risk of infection, they also require a high level of commitment. There is no routine. At any border of the airspace it can now happen that the entry permit is no longer valid. This can lead to negotiations and necessary coordination, which requires the highest level of diplomatic assistance.”

As well as potential airspace closures, crew also have to try and negotiate with countries that have implemented considerable restrictions and limitations, especially for those who have already had contact with covid-19 patients.

Taking on repatriation operations is not an easy decision, and each pilot must consider his own personal environment and his own family situation before signing up. Crews are normally given just a day or two notice before they are required to fly.

Most destinations are not in Austrian’s network

With citizens located all around the world, Austrian’s pilots have been making trips to many airports that are not part of the regular Austrian network.

Dr Lernbeiss has recently carried out a rescue flight from Bali to Vienna, via Kuala Lumpur, for example.

Austrian has also arranged flights to Lima, Mexico City and Sydney. Dr Lernbeiss says:

“Most of the flights are certainly no typical routine flights. We have a few important guidelines, but of course they cannot cover all eventualities. For example, at this very moment, I received a call that we have to remove the aircraft at the airport in Bali. I wasn't supposed to be at the airport within the next five hours, but now I have to leave earlier. Those are things you cannot prepare.”

On-board service is a struggle

As you might expect, the current situation translates to a difficult working environment for Austrian’s cabin crew. In Dr Lernbeiss’ words:

“They are used to not just accompany passengers with a lot of charm and their famous smile, but also to inspire them. In times of covid-19, however, the new etiquette is called "distance" and the smile behind the mask is not visible. For our flight attendants, who live the "Charming Way to Fly" even off duty, this is a great challenge. But they still master it with a lot of charm and tact.”

Summing Up

Cabin crew who perform repatriation flights to get their citizens home are not only increasing their risk of catching the virus, but they are also signing up to some very stressful missions.

No doubt these passengers are eternally grateful that Austrian’s cabin crew have been putting themselves in harm’s way to help their fellow citizens.

I do find it a little odd that the majority of the places Austrian has been flying to aren’t on the airline’s regular network, so maybe they can pick up some tips for future destinations 😉.

What did you think of Dr Lernbeiss’ account?