cabin crew training

Redundancy, Boredom and Isolation: Welcome To The Not-So-Glamorous Lives Of Grounded Flight Attendants During The COVID-19 Pandemic

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Whilst plentiful discourse has been had surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry and the global economy, little attention has been placed on the plights of the cabin crew staff who were hastily laid off in their thousands last year.

A few months ago, WIZZ Air began distributing openings for flight attendant positions through various channels online. In a bid to become a part of the aviation industry’s renaissance (and get their lives back on track), Bruno, Claudio, Melania, Daniel, and Alexandru applied and were swiftly accepted into the programme. 

A large quantity of WIZZ Air’s retraining has taken place at British School of Aviation, which is where I had the privilege of talking to the group about how their personal and professional lives have been impacted by the unprecedented chaos of the past year. 

As the aviation industry prepares to kickstart over the following few months, WIZZ Air’s new student flight attendants are busy attending a vigorous schedule of classes here at London Luton Airport.

I go to greet five of them whilst they are on their lunch break. They’re in casual clothing, chatting happily over homemade sandwiches and a Mcdonald’s order at their shared table. It’s a far cry from the visions that are conjured by our minds at the mere mention of ‘cabin crew’; immaculately dressed young people wearing expensive musky scents and conversing excitedly with other crew members about where they are travelling to or their travels thus far, their excitement managing to oscillate through the cabin and to the passengers.

Perhaps you have never flown before. Still, I imagine that images of glamorous Virgin Atlantic flight attendants walking in unison behind their captain springs to mind.

Something about their slick uniforms and jet-set lifestyles has always been enviable, at least until COVID-19 tarnished the glamour of this highly coveted profession.

Nonetheless, the WIZZ Air flight attendants greet me with beaming smiles, admirable cheerfulness, and excitement about their studies and the prospect of flying again.

Throughout the course of our discussion positivity emerges as a theme in how they perceive and work through their individual situations.

Regardless of the unusually miserable May afternoon on which this interview takes place, the mixture of long and short-haul flight attendants that have agreed to talk to me are eager to share the details of their turbulent past year, their discontent with the way certain airlines have treated them and their optimism about the near future.

 

Left to Right; Daniel, Alexandru, Claudio, Melania, and Bruno. Photo Courtesy of British School of Aviation.


Bruno from France

We decide to go around the table, Bruno is the first to share his thoughts. He tells me that he is from France and that he first started working as a flight attendant three years ago for the recently ceased Thomas Cook, before joining a well-known European airline after enduring a long period of training and exams. 

Bruno talks at length about how exhilarating his long-haul lifestyle was and the numerous countries that he was able to explore via his profession. Unfortunately, Bruno’s time at the airline coincided with the airlines’ May 2020 decision to make up to 30% of its workforce (approximately 12,000 cabin crew members) redundant in June 2020. 

Although 23,000 of their employees were placed on the government’s furlough scheme in April 2020 and a certain quantity of those affected by the cuts were offered new employment opportunities at the airline (albeit on inferior contracts and salaries), Bruno was made officially redundant in August 2020. 

Bruno states that he was one of the first crew members at the airline to be laid off, purely due to him having been one of their newest recruits. Since being made redundant, Bruno has been working at a pub in London. Bruno jokes that “before you would go to a tropical island and have a Pina Colada, now you have to serve the Pina Colada at the pub”, yet there is a pang of sadness in his lighthearted remark. Slumped over with crossed arms, Bruno reveals that the entire experience left him feeling “really bad” and continues that their treatment of him was “disgusting”. 

 

Claudio from Italy

Much like Bruno, Claudio tells me that he was laid off from a short-haul airline sometime last year when the airline announced that it would cut 3,000 jobs and reduce existing staff salaries by 20%.

After having to wave goodbye to his fast-paced short-haul lifestyle, and his ability to frequently catch flights back to his native Naples and see his girlfriend, Claudio relocated to a sleepy town in Hertfordshire.

Claudio tells me that his redundancy was uncalled for and that the airline’s executives somehow “found a motivation” to fire him. Being left with little else to do, Claudio – like millions of others during the pandemic – signed onto Universal Credit.

He opens up that this made him feel “worthless”, and that his predicament; which includes being grounded in a foreign country and being unable to see his relatives for over a year, began to take a negative toll on him emotionally. 

 

Melania from Romania

Melania tells me that she used to fly long-haul for a European airline until her contract got reduced at the start of the pandemic.

Optimistic that she would be back in the sky soon, Melania took on a nine-to-five job in Specsavers to keep herself busy and help make ends meet. After some time, Melania began to detest her new lifestyle. “Although long-haul has its downsides, you don’t wake up or eat at the same times every day”, she found herself missing her fast-paced and adventurous time at the airline.

Melania states that she was officially made redundant in January, and without her employers abiding by their notice terms. 

She tells me that this was when she began to feel particularly bad and that she struggled to cope with her sudden lifestyle change and felt concerned for her future.

Running and exercising every day became her catharsis, and over time Melania began to adjust and adapt to her situation. Melania appears more overtly passionate about aviation than the other flight attendants and tells me how much she misses flying, and that she would do anything to fly again or materialise fragments of her old profession.

Luckily for Melania, she saw WIZZ Air’s advertisement for new flight attendants on a Facebook group for long-haul crew just two weeks after she was officially made redundant. Now, Melania feels extremely optimistic that the aviation industry will exponentially improve and she is certain that she will be back in the sky soon. 

 

Daniel from Romania 

Although I never found out the ages of the student flight attendants, Daniel looks to be one of the youngest at the table. He tells me that he had nearly completed his initial cabin crew training, but that his plans to become a flight attendant were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then Daniel has been living in the UK and working in a warehouse. Daniel shares that this was very disheartening, but that he had managed to work his way up the warehouse’s food chain and ended up taking on an IT-centred position.

Like Melania, Daniel saw WIZZ Air’s advertisement online and jumped at the opportunity to join their team. Daniel feels extremely positive about the current state of the aviation industry, and fervently believes that his career will be up and running again soon.

In awe of his optimism, I ask how he has managed to remain so positive during the crisis, Daniel jokingly replies, “how do you think we have survived so far!”. 

 

Alexandru from Romania

As their lunch break neared a close, I was left with little time to talk to Alexandru about how COVID-19 had affected his personal life and career aspirations. However, he echoed the optimism and positivity of the rest of the group and exuded that he feels very happy to be training with WIZZ Air.

Overall, WIZZ Air seems to have granted the group a new lease of hope, in an otherwise distressing year. 

The group chime in together that they all feel mistreated by the various airlines that they were on the payrolls of, but that they understand that these airlines’ conducts were due to the unprecedented crisis that they were facing.

This discussion enabled me to see how truly resilient cabin crew have been during the pandemic. On behalf of British School of Aviation, we wish WIZZ Air’s newest recruits all the best and hope that they’re back in the air and doing what they love soon. 

 

British School of Aviation is the only Aviation training organisation in the UK that facilitates cabin crew to train alongside pilots, UAV operators, and aeronautical engineers.

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Melissa Fleur Afshar
Content and Media Manager at British School of Aviation

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