The vacations were offered to all employees from doctors to nurses to food and facilities staff.

By Alison Fox
May 11, 2020
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Thousands of healthcare workers battling COVID-19 at a hard-hit hospital in Queens, New York, were surprised with free roundtrip flights and future hotel stays to say thank you.

“We are humbled by the healthcare workers’ dedication to saving lives,” Mark Hoplamazian, the president and CEO of Hyatt, said in a statement provided to Travel + Leisure. “Now it’s our turn to take care of them like members of our own family, and we look forward to making their stays special when they are able to take a hard-earned break.”

Each worker at the NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst hospital — and there are more than 4,000 of them — was given a free flight from American Airlines for them and a guest as well as a three-night stay at a Hyatt hotel in the U.S. or the Caribbean. The vacations were offered to all employees from doctors to nurses to food and facilities staff.

New York has been the hardest hit of any state in the U.S. when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, and New York City has been at the center of that with more than 178,700 confirmed cases of the virus, according to the city’s Health Department. That translated to Elmhurst hospital having to nearly quadruple its ICU capacity last month.

An-Sophi Fjello-Jensen/AP Images for Hyatt

“Every worker at Elmhurst has seen and experienced challenges many of us cannot imagine. They’ve given so much of themselves and chose to serve their community with care, compassion and equity for every patient,” Robert Isom, the president of American Airlines, said in a statement. “When they are able to take a break, we hope the time away will help them and their loved ones recharge and that they feel our deepest appreciation for their sacrifice and heroism.”

The free vacations are available at locations near and far, including some within driving distance of New York City, a spokeswoman told T+L. And up to four people can be accommodated in a room so families can take a much-needed break together. If a healthcare worker drives to a hotel, they will be able to redeem the flights at a later date, the spokeswoman confirmed.

For its part, Hyatt has committed to new cleaning protocols to assuage future guests, including having a “Hygiene Manager" in each location who will be in charge of implementing the procedures.

American Airlines isn’t the only carrier to offer healthcare workers a free flight. Last week, JetBlue said it was giving away 100,000 pairs of roundtrip flight certificates to healthcare workers to anywhere the airline flies -- including at least 10,000 pairs to workers at the Mount Sinai Health System and NYC Health + Hospitals.

In addition to free getaways, there are many ways to help healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic as well as New York City as a whole through donations or volunteer efforts.