So, How’s Work? 10 Ways Flying has Changed since the Pandemic
As a full-time flight attendant flying through the pandemic, I’ve been getting a lot of questions.
How is work going for you?
Do you feel safe?
Is your job safe?
How are people behaving?
What is it like being on the road in these times?
People want to know how flying has changed since the pandemic, and how we, as airline professionals, are coping. I figured I may as well write a post about it to answer these common questions, clear things up, and reflect on just how we’re getting through these novel and uncertain times.
My experience of work is unique to me and working in aviation looks different for all of us right now. Which airline you work for, how long you’ve been on the job, and what your personal priorities are all have an effect on what a particular flight attendant or pilot’s situation is. I can only write about my experience with my airline, so I plan to do just that. I’m outlining below the many ways that air travel, and working in aviation, has changed. I’ll be sharing how I am coping with those changes, and I’ll be providing tips for those of you looking to fly in the near future. If you have more questions at the end, feel free to post them in the comments or write to me directly, but I think I’ve tackled all the major topics.
so here they are:
10 Ways the Pandemic has changed Flying
Work, Unemployment, and Job Loss.
In thinking about how flying has changed since the pandemic, I have to first give a little background into the basics. Like..”Ummm…are you even working?”
My personal pandemic employment structure went something like this:
I took three months of voluntary leave during the height of the pandemic (And by that I mean the height of people caring about it.) I had an additional month off due to my entire schedule of flights being cancelled. So, for four glorious months I was out of work. I came back to work in August because demand was high enough that I had to, and I have continued to work ever since.
I am in the very lucky position to have been able to collect unemployment while I was out of work, and to have a job to go back to. For many of my airline brethren this is not the case.
My company is a smaller airline in the scheme of things. Just getting our feet wet in the international pool. And our size, lack of international spread, and apparently savvy financial habits, has put us in a very good position for survival. As a matter of fact, we’ve recently announced several new flight routes. While many in my company have taken voluntary opt out packages and extended leaves, it does not look like we will be having layoffs or furloughs—not yet anyway.
But for many of the larger airlines, the COVID-induced financial strain was too much and frontline staff have been cut in great numbers and deep into the seniority list. For so many of our cohorts at other airlines, this is a time of loss, and of big decisions. A “What comes next?” as they pack up their uniforms and hang up their wings. My heart goes out to all of them and the uncertain road ahead.
This thing, that I was dreading back in March when I wrote the post on Comfort, Coasting, and Job Insecurity, isn’t happening for us. And I’m feeling so much gratitude and luck. It feels very good right now, to be in a small pond.
On the Job differences:
1. We wear masks.
Duh. And while mask-ne isn’t fun and it can get hot when you’re running behind and booking it through the terminal (No, I would neverrrrr do that), otherwise I just don’t think it’s that bad. Midway through the flight I’ve usually forgotten I’m wearing a mask.
2. We police masks.
This part is by far more annoying than the wearing of a mask. It is very easy to tell who accidentally forgot to put it back on after eating (the majority of people) and who is trying to make a statement and be obstinate. Which is totally fine—when you’re flying your private plane. If you are going to fly commercial, please don’t make my job any harder. Wear your stupid mask.
3. There are significantly fewer flights.
This means there are less hours to go around and it is difficult to achieve one’s normal pay level. This also makes it hard for commuters (people who fly to work) to get to work.
4. There are significantly fewer customers.
Full disclosure, I basically only work West Coast to East Coast transcon flights, so that’s all I can attest to. From what I hear the flights between Florida cities and the Northeast have been picking up quite a bit. My airline is still capping flights, meaning we are selling less seats than what capacity allows. Currently we block off all middle seats. By mid-October we will be allowing a few full rows to be sold (for families traveling together), but the majority of middles will be out. This policy will last until December 1.
5. Service is a breeze.
If you fly first class, prepare yourself for a hot, delicious meal, sweet treats, and all you can drink. If you’re in the back of the bus (with me—yay!) then prepare for the delight of a pre-packaged plastic bag with a water and two randomly selected snacks.
It is a far cry from how we normally do things, the service at my airline being what we’re known for. But times are different, and we don’t have any of the good stuff you’re looking for. No mile-high meals. No getting drunk on a plane. No sky sandwiches. These ‘snack packs’, as I’ve taken to calling them, are especially sad on a long-haul flight. Made worse by the fact that some airports—like Boston Logan, ahem!—have very few food options operating. If I could give you one piece of advice AFTER telling you to wear your mask, it would be to bring yourself some food from home. It’s what all your flight attendants are doing.
Ahhh, the good old days. When I could charm with my smile and spread my germs far and wide.
6. We’ve got time.
Our job has been paired down to the bare minimum. We are foremost safety professionals, but in pre-COVID days we spent the majority of our time on the aircraft playing a customer service role. We still wear that hat, but food and beverage service is so quick due to COVID safety measures that we have literally hours more free time than we did before. Some of my coworkers will lament that flights are boring and wish for more to do. ::Insert eye roll here:: My personal thought is that boredom can be easily solved by finding a hobby, a good book, something to learn.
I know the day will come when people will fly more regularly, slashed flights will return, and our jobs will become busier. Until then, I am enjoying every moment of downtime where I’m getting paid to update my blog, write down my thoughts, read my book, and scroll through Zillow.
7. We’re on time.
With less flights, and less people, there is less opportunity for things to go wrong and result in delays. Almost all of my flights have arrived early, and this little perk is nice for everyone involved.
8. To Quarantine or Not to Quarantine.
I’m considered an essential employee, so I am not required to quarantine once I get home from work. I am, however required to adhere to all guidelines in my leisure time. In fact, my doctor recently cancelled my physical appointment because I had been on an airplane in the last two weeks. It’s a weird place, having one foot in the normal realm of work and travel, and one squarely in the same reality as everybody else. It makes things feel complicated.
Decisions of whether to accept invitations, to go out on a layover, to travel all seem like big decisions. Each gathering, event, movement, interaction, carries with it the risk of being exposed to COVID. And while I think I am healthy enough that I could survive it, I am not trying to harm anyone else, least of all people I love. Further, if I have a “COVID scare”—if someone I’ve been in contact with outside of work tests positive—then I have to call out of work, get tested and quarantine. After this I will only receive pay if I am in fact sick. Putting my wallet on the line in these uncertain and less-than-lucrative times is a huge risk.
Some of my coworkers feel like “If I have to be at work and interacting with the public, then I guess I can go out and live.” While others are more deeply concerned. It is a tough in-between spot and finding balance is on a case-by-case and person to person basis.
9. #LayoverLife is different.
Many large cities are still not opened up fully. Walking around normally bustling San Francisco yesterday, it was difficult to find a restaurant open. Once we did, the wind gusts made sitting outside in sub-60 degree weather less than appealing. Many bars remain closed, museums require reservations, and crowded events and spaces are just not so much a thing.
I have actually been enjoying the amended format of layovers. Long stretches of time in nice hotel rooms, with no pressure to get dressed and go out, no FOMO in sight, spending less money and getting more accomplished. My layovers that used to consist of going out to bars and restaurants now include running outside, YouTube yoga, hot tea in bed, writing, working on my YouTube channel and blog, and reading for pleasure. And, maybe the best part of all, getting plenty of sleep. COVID has made it so much easier to be a slam-clicker, and I for one am NOT complaining.
10. People are chill.
Okay I have to preface this again by saying I do not work flights between Florida and the Northeast. If you’re a flight attendant, you understand this statement. If you’re not, I’m saying those flights are difficult and it is because of the crowds.
But on the flights I am working, people have been very laid back, relaxed, kind, humane. I’m willing to wager that this is true, to a lesser degree, even on the worst of flights (which we all know is LGA-FLL.)
Nary a complaint has been made about the temperature, the speed of service, the lights. I have not been asked once in these two months for a refund of airfare because of a broken TV. Not having any booze to sell means no drunk people to cut off or have arrested after the flight. No blankets on board means people don’t complain that they cost money and finally seem to have taken the advice of every good grandma: “Sweetie, bring a sweater. You’ll catch cold.” Having middle seats blocked off takes away 1/3 of the people who could possibly complain about that. The last row is also blocked off on many flights, so the dismay of realizing one’s seat is in the back of the plane (Good heavens, what will we do!?) has disappeared. Everyone is basically just keeping themselves busy, doing their own thing. It’s like they all took a literal chill pill. And this part of the deal is pretty freaking awesome. I encourage everyone to keep up the good work once flying becomes more accessible and frequent.
That being said, I do miss some things about normal flying. It is a bit difficult to have a friendly conversation with a passenger while both wearing masks and not wanting to be close. As much as I love the chill of our current crowds, the human interaction is a big part of why I love my job.
Everything is different, and while we can all long for the ‘good old days’, this is what our current version of normal is. With no end in sight, I’m doing my best to stay positive and enjoy the downtime, the off time, the relaxed crowds, wearing hardly any makeup, the hours of good sleep in nice beds, the hours of key-clicking and story writing. I’m feeling lucky to be at this airline, grateful to still have a job, to have enough seniority that I’m not in direct jeopardy, to not have a family to support on my now-cut wages. I’m feeling deep solidarity and empathy for those in my industry—flight attendants, pilots, gate agents, supervisors, reservations specialists—who have lost the livelihoods they love and are on a new journey. I am feeling the same for the families who have lost loved ones to this disease.
For now, I’m making the most of this sky-high adventure and taking it day by day, mile by mile.
Do you work in aviation? What has your experience been? Are you still on the job? Are you bored out of your mind? Worried about the future? Loving it, like me? For those non-airline people: Did any of this surprise you? If you still have questions on your mind, for an upcoming flight or just plain curiosity, leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer.
That’s it for now. Stay safe out there!