Humans of RV: Irian Ruiz

Behind the scenes with a UPS pilot who delivers the COVID-19 vaccines

Riley Ruiz, Student Life Editor

The Humans of RV project is a weekly column based off of Brandon Stanton’s seminal “Humans of New York” project, which seeks to “catalogue the city’s inhabitants” through photography and brief interviews. RV seeks to expand on this project with our own “cataloguing” of RV students and an examination into all the unique perspectives here at school. 

Note: this transcript has been edited and condensed for publication purposes.


I am a pilot for UPS and have been for 20 years. With COVID-19, my duties have not really changed, but I have become crucial to the fight against this pandemic. My step in this process is crucial because I deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. I am considered an essential infrastructure employee by the US Department of Homeland; meaning, if the state or country were to close down, I would still have to work.

As for COVID protocols, UPS puts our safety first and mandated a mask policy at all times the minute we walk onto the property. Social distancing was also mandated including separating groups of pilots when getting ready to fly and minimizing the number of pilots allowed onboard. Non-operating crew members are required to wear N-95 masks at all times onboard UPS aircraft. Once you are done flying, pilots can individually sanitize, but there are sanitation crews to thoroughly clean the aircraft. The only time face coverings can be removed are in emergency situations when oxygen is needed. 

We get a mixed load of cargo, some mixed with the vaccines and some with no vaccine. In the air, you have preferential treatment if you are carrying the vaccine. Almost all procedures are done as quickly as possible with the vaccine because it takes priority to our other cargo. 

Shipping and flying out the vaccine brings some challenges and is actually pretty dangerous. The vaccine is kept under very cold storage conditions that are well below freezing temperatures. Vaccines are shipped with high quantities of dry ice. Dry ice on an aircraft creates an elevated level of carbon dioxide due to sublimation of the dry ice which can cause headaches, dizziness and muscular weakness, which therefore makes it super dangerous to fly with. UPS has procedures on all aircraft to eliminate the risk of CO2 exposure. UPS ensures pilots safety by communicating with us and letting us know dry ice will be on our aircraft before we step on and we also sign a document informing us how much dry ice is onboard so we can take the necessary safety precautions. 

I feel that UPS is doing an excellent job with everything and ensuring pilots safety with the COVID protocols. It is a huge team effort and everything is done really efficiently and effective with the given circumstances. It is really cool to be a part of the fight against Coronavirus.