Coronavirus: Aer Lingus pilots describe ‘privilege’ of flying to China to get PPE

For Captain Pat O’Driscoll, one of the Aer Lingus pilots who flew to Beijing to procure personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers in the past week, the motivation came from having two sisters who work as nurses, a daughter who works in child protection and a mother-in-law who is in a nursing home.

Speaking on the Late Late Show on Friday night, he said: “These were all things that were important to me.”

Mr O’Driscoll was on annual leave when he was asked to fly to Beijing for PPE. “I’d just come back from Seattle about three weeks previously – Ireland had changed. It was different. We were all mindful of colleagues and friends in other airlines working in precarious contracts who’d lost their jobs, and there was this opportunity available to us to go and do something,” he said.

“But the most significant thing that happened was after I came back from Seattle; I was out for a walk and I met a friend of mine who’s very senior in Dublin Fire Brigade. I asked him how things were going. He said it was tough and he’d spent the past 30 hours trying to procure PPE. We did 28 hours. That man did 30 hours. That was important for me in getting this job done.”

Army personnel pack the cargo from China. Photograph: Tom Honan/Irish Times.
Army personnel pack the cargo from China. Photograph: Tom Honan/Irish Times.

Mr O’Driscoll has been flying with Aer Lingus since 1979 and said he’d “been through a few of the crises” including 9/11. “But this is the biggest step up the Aer Lingus team has ever had to do,” he said. Mr O’Driscoll added that he was “honoured to be asked”.