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UPS pilots can opt out of flying to China under union agreement

Pilots for the United Parcel Service (UPS) can opt out of flight assignments to and from China as the deadly coronavirus spreads.

The deal is a win for the Independent Pilots Association (IPA) – the union representing the pilots – whose crewmembers were worried about contracting the virus and saying they don’t feel safe while delivering packages.

Flying into or out of China will now be ‘voluntary’ and any pilot who says he or she is not comfortable doing so will be ‘temporarily replaced on those flights,’ UPS said in a statement. 

If the pilots aren’t rescheduled on another route, the pilots will have to take an unpaid leave of absence. They can also choose to use paid sick leave, according to the union.   

Despite nearly 50 pilots – two per plane – operating several China routes, a UPS spokesman says the company is not worried about the delay of packages should pilots choose to opt out. 

There will be a three-day transition period before the agreement is fully implemented, according to the IPA. 

‘Like all of us, our primary concern of the pilots of our union is driven by what we don’t know [about the coronavirus outbreak],’ spokesman Brian Gaudet told

‘Given that all of the passenger airlines were curtailing service, we were looking for a way for our pilots to opt out.’ 

This is in reference to more than two dozen airlines – including American, United and Delta – temporarily suspending service to China. 

UPS has two hubs in China: one in Shenzen – a city in the south that borders Hong Kong – and another in Shanghai.

Between the two stations, there are an average 22 flights daily from China to countries within Asia and outside of the continent.

According to the UPS website, the hubs sort a combined 25,000 packages and documents per hour.

Mike Mangeot, a spokesman for UPS, told that the company doesn’t fear that packages will be delayed should pilots decide they don’t want to fly China routes.

‘We’re meeting all of our deadlines re-accommodating our crews and we don’t foresee any delays,’ he said.

Currently, there are nearly 3,000 pilots working for UPS that could be substituted for any pilot that opts out.

In a separate statement, UPS says it is prioritizing healthcare and aid shipments for companies sending supplies to China.

This includes a February 1 flight that was coordinated with the Red Cross Society of China to send face masks, protective suits and nitrite gloves.  

‘In the meantime, we are using the flexibility of our network to redirect assets to support other shipping lanes where there continues to be demand,’ UPS said in a statement. 

FedEx has also shipped surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and protective equipment to China, but has made no announcement of any similar agreement for its pilots. 

Since the outbreak began in December 2019, more than 28,000 people worldwide have become infected with coronavirus.

All of the 564 deaths – aside from two – have been occurred in China, mostly in the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated. 

There are 12 confirmed cases in the US including six in California, two in Illinois and one each in Arizona, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin.

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