This article developed from various sources, from three airline workers that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. One of the names from this article has been unmentioned due to privacy reason.
Airlines across the world are expecting turbulence ahead due to the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
In Asia, airlines are severely cutting flights or even suspending operations entirely at the moment. Singapore Airlines announced a radical cut to its flying schedules for April 2020, grounding 185 of its 196 aircraft across the three SIA Group airlines and scaling back capacity by an astonishing 96% during March.
With a reduction as significant as flight volumes, Singapore Airlines and Silk Air down to only five city routes in April and Thai Airways announced on its own Facebook page a dramatic reduction of its fleet service. Singapore’s budget airline—Scoot—suspends almost its entire network until April 6th, joining local Qantas subsidiary, Jetstar Asia, with the latter carrier applying a total grounding until April 15th.
The flight crew in Asia are taking a double hit
By working directly with passengers who may or may not be carrying the disease, or worrying about their job security with the close-to-nothing flight schedule.
Patt is a 29-year-old flight attendant from Singapore, who has served in Singapore based airline company for more than 10 years. Air travel is down as many planes fly to nearly empty, and flight attendants like Patt are staring at a potentially devastating loss of income.
Flight attendants have grave concerns about continuing the service, pouring drinks, serving snacks and collecting trash after the pandemic arises—her airline company equips all the flight crew with personal protective gear such as hand sanitizers and protective masks.
“They prepare protective supplies on our meeting station before the flight, such as masks which can be used on the layover as well,” she explained about the measures taken by the airline company to prevent the staff from getting infected while working.
“We started to alter our service on the plane to be more hygienic, and the company that I worked with allows us to wear a protective mask during the flight and throughout the service. We don't have full flights anymore. My flights during the last January have gone from being overbooked to February being half full, and then it’s just wavering depending on the route. Or worse, cancelled. People are so afraid of everything.”
Airline workers are anxious over their financial future
Charmaine, 31-year-old stewardess working in the same Singapore based airline company, worries about her income after noticing up to an 80 percent loss from her usual monthly income of about S$3,500 to S$4,500 a month. She would generally work for about 10 days each month but worked for only 4 days in the past month.
“My basic salary (which is only about S$1,000 to S$1,400) is a little steep for my monthly expenses, and I am lucky I still have the extra eight days of work; at least I still have a balance to cover my rent and groceries for April. Yet a lot of my flights are cancelled, I am supposed to have a few more flights,” she said.
Forcing their employees to find other work
One of Patt’s colleagues, who declined to be named, admitted to taking a side job to cover the loss of income due to his decreased flight schedule. He has started a part-time job as a food delivery courier, which he does when there’s no flight schedule. Being called up for a sudden flight during the COVID-19 pandemic is “highly unlikely.”
“As a flight attendant, I’m exposed daily to so many germs. I don’t mind delivering food as long as I wear my protective mask and gloves when I deliver the food. Singapore also makes a ‘no-contact policy’ in regards to food delivery. What I usually do after the no-contact policy applies is only drop the food items at the customer’s designated area stated in their order or hang the delivery bag over their doorknob.”
Not the First (Health-Related) Crisis
This isn't the first health-related crisis Patt worked through.
“I've been through SARS pandemic (the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak that shook Singapore in 2003), and there’s no lockdown, though it was a devastating case for Singapore. With the swine flu (H1N1) we just take more precautionary action by removing all pillows and blankets from the aircraft after passengers disembark. And we have to get a yellow fever vaccine jab before we can get a South American route."
“But this is different. It’s difficult not to see my family because I might be exposing them to the potential disease. Even when I was on my layover, the regulation stated that in the specific stations — like London that has severe COVID-19 cases — we need to be inside our hotel and bring food, instead of going out to eat like we normally do as colleagues. And then on top of it, I serve passengers from all over the world that might or might not have been exposed to the disease. I feel pretty conflicted."
Patt was still in London on her three-days layover when I interviewed her over the phone on March 31st. This was the last London flight as her airline cancelled all London routes in April due to the COVID-19 measures. She brought her portable cookpot and food from her home base to comply with quarantine regulations from her airline company during her flight layovers.