Wings clipped due to COVID-19, Filipino flight attendants look for emergency exit

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 03 2020 06:08 AM | Updated as of Apr 03 2020 08:31 AM

A general view of the almost empty Istanbul Airport, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Turkey March 29, 2020. Umit Bektas, Reuters

MANILA -- Barely 2 years into her dream job as a flight attendant for a Middle East airline, Jane (not her real name) splurged a portion of her savings to study interior design online, bracing for a career shift should the coronavirus pandemic turn her furlough into termination.

No flights mean a huge pay cut for Jane, who was also placed on voluntary leave. This leaves her with barely enough for monthly bills. She asked not to be named for lack of authority from her employer to speak to the media.

"May matitira man na konti, it's not enough if wala kang lipad (Even if some money is left, it's not enough when you're not flying)," said Jane, who is helping out in her family's construction business while riding out the pandemic.

Airlines around the world have asked for government bailouts to survive the worst crisis in aviation in recent history as the pandemic forced lockdowns and border closures.

The fast-spreading COVID-19 has infected 738,500 worldwide, of which 35,000 died, according to a Reuters tally. The Philippines as of April 2 confirmed 2,311 cases including 93 deaths and 50 recoveries.

DOMINO EFFECT

Another flight attendant from a local airline, Jenny (not her real name), is stretching her paycheck on groceries for her family. During her family's last supermarket run, she said they snapped up "buy 1 take 1" meats, promo bundles and sacks of rice.

"We're worried na baka tumagal pa itong crisis na to (We're worried that this crisis will drag)," she said.

"Domino effect kasi: Wala pa din flights or konti pa din ang mag tra-travel, wala kaming gaanong schedule, so no or less income pa din pero may bills to pay monthly," she said.

(It's a domino effect. There's little to no flights because no one is traveling so no or less income for us. But we have bills to pay monthly.)

Jane, the Middle East flight attendant, said that like herself, some of her colleagues are planning their own emergency exits due to the coronavirus uncertainty.

"This year, goal ko is to save as much as I can pero mukhang hindi possible dahil sa COVID. Pero hindi natin alam kelan kami makakabalik, since may travel restrictions," she said.

(This year, my goal is to save as much as I can but I don't think that's possible because of COVID. We don't know when we can come back because of the travel restrictions.)

"I don't plan to stay in the company... It's not for me," she said when asked about the industry's current instability.

Jenny, the flight attendant for a Filipino carrier, said she was hopeful that airlines would recover since aviation is a backbone of the economy.

"We hope na after nito, everything will be back to normal: Maraming na ulit magbo-book ng flights to see their loved ones, to go for a vacation," she said.

"Sana lahat ng company makabawi, then i-hire nila ulit yung mga na-layoff," she said.

(I hope all companies recover their losses so they can re-hire those who were laid off.)