The original article written two months ago – still very relevant.
TIME TO BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF AND RE-THINK YOUR PLANS
A different “moment of truth,” a term coined by the SAS former CEO Jan Carlzon, has arrived. Do you want to fly badly enough that you might be willing to put your life on the line? It is a simple question when you ask a fighter pilot, but it is a lot more involved if you ask a flight attendant, particularly if he or she has a family.
Just as the airlines were running and humming making profit to the tune of billions of dollars and the U.S. economy was soaring to unprecedented highs, everything came to a standstill. The eerie feeling we had experienced during 9/11 and SARS epidemic found a stealthy way into our lives. All due to a new virus from the SARS family, yet a lot more potent and virulent, and deadly to thousands in most countries, totaling at the time of this writing well over 1.5 million deaths, and the number is still growing. Hundreds of U.S. flight attendants have been infected now and Paul Frishkorn, an American Airlines veteran flight attendant, was the first to pass away from the virus in mid-March.
It took weeks for the airlines to realize the severity of the problem. Finally, flights were decreased to
a bare minimum, flight attendants are given hospital-grade face masks and gloves and are urged to cut contact with passengers to a minimum.passengers to minimum
If you have entertained becoming a flight attendant-steward-stewardess-cabin crew – whatever you chose to call those of us who look after passengers on the plane – you need to ask yourself how much you really want that job, and are you willing to take the risks.
Dealing with terrorists actually may be a little bit easier than dealing with a rapidly spreading infection. You see the enemy with their weapons; the virus is invisible, takes a while to incubate and may hit our body with deathly force days or weeks after our exposure.
When I was in nursing school, I learned a few important things about infectious diseases. One was that while antibiotics were highly effective against bacilli, they did not work well against viruses. The second one was that it was not just the presence of the “bug,” but the number a person had in his/her body. Last, some reproduce faster than others, and some are more vicious than others. Not every “host” (a person affected by the bug) has the same immune system. That’s why we see that possibly 85% of the coronavirus dead are elderly with diminished immune system.
Those of us who have been flying during 9/11 and SARS remember well how long it took to get airlines back up to speed, and we know that this time it will take a lot longer. Most airlines – big and small – have already forgotten how they begged people to fly again after we worked on almost empty planes for months after the attacks. Yet, it did not take too long when planes filled again after 9/11 and airlines started to nickel-and-dime passengers. It brought airlines new billions in revenue, and inconvenience and extra expenses to passengers. Airline executives understand that this time around the negative effect of the virus will last a lot longer and promptly asked the government for a bailout.
Unlike before, however, this time the government - though opened to supporting the airline industry - does not plan to just “give” the airlines cash and loans; the government will require this time that either the airlines will pay back in some way or the government may take a stake in the bailed out companies. It would be nice if the government took this opportunity and re-wrote some regulations governing airlines, so when they are up and running, they won’t be able to milk the public again.
Currently, most airlines have cut their flights by 80-90%, both domestically and internationally. Some planned to furlough employees, but fortunately for us one of the conditions here in the U.S. was that if an airline gets government help, they have to keep people on payroll at least till the end of September, though the checks may be less. That’s better than the layoffs without compensation we got after 9/11 and SARS. That’s not stopping the airlines from asking employees to take leaves of absence without pay, early retirement or outright asking for a resignation where it is possible. So what can we expect?
First of all, one has to realistically look at the potential of the virus, projecting data from China, S. Korea, Spain and Italy since the beginning of December 2019 and consider that despite the fact that the Chinese number of infections is going slowly down now, a new wave is coming in from people returning to China from their travels abroad. So, in all fairness, unless there is a significant break in developing a vaccine and medications that might stop it and cure those that have been affected, the virus will be still “well and alive” in the U.S. in August or September, and we’ll be lucky if it is wiped out by next Christmas. I am not saying this lightly. I am saying this from my experience not just as a flight attendant during SARS and 9/11 but also as a 22-year nursing veteran, before I started flying.
It means that most airline hiring will remain frozen for months into 2021. Based on all this, and experience from aviation during 9/11 and SARS, which I remember all too well, we can expect airlines to do the following in the second half of this year:
•Offer more unpaid leave of absence (LOA) •Significant furloughs if there are not enough LOA applicants •Early retirement will be offered •Possibly more domestic airline mergers •Possibly, though unlikely, mergers among international airlines •Significant reduction of routes both nationally and internationally by all airlines in comparison with routes flown before the virus hit the world •More airlines going bankrupt
These changes would probably occur after September 30, 2020 when airlines will not be bound by the agreement with U.S. government if they are stable enough to avoid further government financial life support.
If and when routes start expanding again, there will be probably a wave of rehiring people who were either on an unpaid leave or furloughed (going by their respective seniority), and when it may be happening will vary. It will depend on the industry rebound, which will be definitely slower that after 9/11, and on the number of employees that were affected. It is because of these variables that one cannot tell at this time when hiring of new employees might occur. But that window might be as long as 5 years, like what we have seen after American Airlines absorbed TWA, though it was a different situation.
If you are currently a flight attendant and have low seniority (1-5 years, depending on the company), your chances at being furloughed (laid off) are fairly high, and you should not rely on living on unemployment when the time comes. If you feel that you might be getting the pink slip after September (or sooner), start looking for jobs elsewhere. In fact, it is a good idea to do it very seriously and diligently now, because a lot of the very senior flight attendants from other bases will be moving to bases where they may have a better chance of holding a line. Some bases, inevitably, will also be closing. That applies to most airlines with a significant number of flight attendants.
There will be a big number of furloughed people looking for jobs; not just you as a flight attendant, but also people from other industries. The best advice I could give you is to find a job where demand and surplus does not fluctuate as much. Do some research on jobs in your area. You may like to take a few courses to qualify better for what there is. Do not wait till the ax falls and you’ll have to go on unemployment. Unemployment pickings are pretty slim and they are not forever. Also, it is easier to find a better job if you hold a job, rather than if you were on unemployment.
Keep in mind that some of the very senior flight attendants will be reluctant to retire, because from what I have seen, very few have any nest egg. Most of them have not thought about retirement till they grew older, and that is usually a little late to create substantial savings or investments. Most of them have lived from paycheck to paycheck.
So what does it mean for you, someone who just started thinking seriously about becoming a flight attendant?
It depends. One of the variables is your age. If you are 50-55 and waited till kids are on their own before you apply for the flight attendant job, your chances of ever landing that job are now pretty slim. By the time the industry is up and running again, you will be a few years older. It is likely that airlines, though it is officially illegal in the U.S., will be looking for younger people. Why is that?
Even if you are a healthy 55 young person now, you’ll be closer to 60 when there are new openings. Your health may not be the same, and you certainly (or at least theoretically) will not give your prospective airline the same amount of years as a 25-year old. The first signs of a life-time “wear-and-tear” on your body will be more pronounced, and being a flight attendant requires good physical stamina. You do not want to work for a few years and end up on disability (it does happen).
If you are 20-35 years old, you have great chances – eventually. It would be great (if you are serious enough) to start getting ready for the application and interview process now when you are not pressured, and see if the job is really for you, with all its ups and downs, like today’s situation. It never hurts to be prepared and ready. Make sure you have a good resume ready, keep your passport current, have all documents in order and all in one place. Because when hiring starts, there may be only a 24-hour window on the internet when to apply and you’ll need to have all these things ready, and be ready for any question in your interviews.
And, in a culture like ours in the U.S., chances are that right now you live from paycheck to paycheck and have some balance on your credit cards. Use the “waiting time” to get into a better financial shape and save up enough so you can tide over the first three months after you start airline training. You will most certainly not be paid for training by the airlines like it used to be. Airlines know they will have enough applicants to stop paying them at the end of training.
You may not get the first paycheck for some 30 days after you leave training. It won’t be a huge paycheck. You need to be able to stay financially afloat. Tighten up your belt now and start saving, this is a good time to do it. Restaurants are closed, movie houses and bars are closed, most countries overseas are closed to vacationers, so stay home and save.
But most of all, take care of yourself and do your part in getting us all through this catastrophic period in a good shape. Maintain the “6 feet social distancing” as long as it is needed. I liked New York’s Governor Cuomo’s slogan: “Keep six feet apart or you’ll end up six feet under.”
Follow the government strictest requirements – it does not matter whether it is local, county, state or federal government - stick to the strictest rules to improve your chances. Remember that wearing a mask over your nose and mouth protects both you and those around you when you go outside. Some states see the light and order compulsory face masks, under heavy penalties.
Help those who can’t do much for themselves, disabled people or the elderly in your neighborhood. We all are in it together – that’s not just a catchy slogan, it is the sad truth. Do as much shopping as you have to at one time to stay at home most of the time (self-quarantine works both for the young and the old).
For all of us, the most important task and goal now is to get through this pandemic healthy. And when we do, you’ll see the rest “is a detail.”
Midnight Flight Airways
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