Its been eleven days since my last trip and I’ve only just realised now that my flying career was “suspended” the way it began; on a trip to Johannesburg almost five years ago. Seems poetic and I romanticise it slightly but its actually one of the least popular destinations within our network for a number of reasons and crew reading this are probably thinking, “sorry, your last trip was to Johannesburg”, or maybe more accurately, “better you then me”.
Like I said, almost five years ago is when it all began, on a 48 hour slip there with my training class mate. We had been told horror stories of the place so we locked ourselves in our rooms and ordered room service. A hotel staff member wheeled in our order on a double story tray mobile, I don’t know why we ordered so much food. In absolute stark contrast, flash forward to my most recent trip, we spent the night out at Leopard Song; myself and four other Kiwi cabin crew, on an overnight safari. I didn’t realise it was my last trip, but what a way to end it.
Thinking back, (not all that long ago because its only been less then four month since the outbreak), there was only one time, during the last few months where there was a physical moment when I realised that something was wrong. I was working on a flight to Sydney from Singapore and at this stage the virus was relatively contained within Wuhan, China, with one or two cases else where; including one case in Singapore from a man who had travelled through there on his way to Europe. We had three people on board who were sick. So upon landing a lady from Sydney quarantine came on board in full protective gear. She was covered from head to toe in a protective suit and mask that covered her entire face. She walked past me and down the aisle of economy, with full aircraft of passengers. I hadn’t been told but I knew exactly who she was going to asses; a lady who had been coughing and spluttering all flight and who I had been serving. She was to be taken away and tested for the corona virus. We hadn’t been told once during the flight what was going on and afterwards the passengers disembarked joking “do we all have corona now”. A few days later I heard through media reports that our airline had transported an infected passenger from Singapore to Sydney and for the rest of that week I couldn’t stop thinking about my flight. I received an email a few days later saying that a passenger who had tested positive for COVID-19 was on a flight two days before mine from Singapore to Sydney. Seriously felt like I dodged a bullet. Incidences like these make me think had we taken this more seriously to start with we wouldn’t be where we are now.
What followed over the next few weeks was very abrupt like I think it was for most businesses. Such strange and uncertain times but specifically for cabin crew, it was quick and unexpected and I’m genuine when I say that this all crept up on us. I was lucky to have been at home when work completely halted. However there were crew dotted around the world unsure of their flights home. This is the part that may confuse a lot of people but as cabin crew, who would be away for a week or longer, to come home for a couple of day and leave again there really wasn’t much time to soak in the severity of what was unfolding throughout the world and let alone how it was effecting New Zealand. I remember having conversations with people who would have to remind me that this is serious, and people are dying.
As COVID-19 made its way closer and closer to our front door step, no doubt being carried on the very aircraft we continued to operate home, we were finally informed that a crew member had tested positive for COVID-19, were we surprised? Not in the slightest, it was only a matter of time. As our passengers began to catch on, and as our aircraft stopped filling up, the rest of my roster got cancelled just after the government closed off the boarder. It took awhile for the company to even email us finally declaring what the rest of the world already knew, that it was no longer safe to travel and that the restrictions the rest of the world had imposed has made it impossible to carry on working.
I can’t help but feel if these restriction hadn’t of been imposed I’d still be out flying with a company who definitely spent their time lulling us and assuring us, “all was well” and “risk was low to crew” as long as we “washed our hands, we’d be safe”. Reassuring us that the company had navigated its way through a lot worse like SARS and Bird Flu and that COVID-19 was nothing more then the common cold. BOOOY were they wrong! Then again why would we think any differently, no matter what restrictions applied to the rest of the world’s population, crew were always exempt. As far as we were concerned and according to the exemptions given to us our immune systems were impenetrable.
It’s definitely taken the last week at home to come to terms with having COVID-19 here in New Zealand as I know is the case for almost every kiwi in New Zealand right now. As cabin crew we spend hours on an aircraft, watch the news in other countries and then come home to New Zealand to find supermarkets strained to keep up with the demand of shoppers, panic buying the entire store, to borders being closed and flights being cancelled while we still have friends overseas and to finally not having work for the foreseeable future. While like most, the logistics of how and what we should get paid during the period is still being confirmed, most crew have maintained their positions.
So for now and until further notice I take comfort in the fact that I get to isolate myself in New Zealand, not able to work from home, but still with a job to go back to once the world has recovered.
Stay at home everyone!