To say that being a flight attendant over the last 18-months has been strange would be somewhat of an understatement. Admittedly, life has been pretty crazy no matter what walk of life you happen to be in but working in the airline industry has had some pretty unique and very intense challenges.
Thankfully, I’m happy to report that I’ve got through what I hope is the worst of the pandemic pretty much unscathed. Sadly, not all my fellow flight attendants survived – some lost their jobs, others paid the ultimate price.
When I come to think about it, it’s remarkable that I’ve got to this point without falling sick. In February and March 2020, my airline (like many airlines) refused to give us access to face masks or even gloves for fear that we might scare passengers. Nowadays, seeing an unmasked face is likely to scare passengers far more.
Flight attendants who sourced their masks were stigmatised and threatened with disciplinary action. At the time, we had to campaign for the most basic of personal protection equipment like alcohol hand gel. Now, we wonder when and how these health measures will be rolled back.
Of course, it wasn’t long before I and hundreds of thousands of other airline workers were stood down as borders slammed shut and travel demand dried up. The fear of falling sick quickly turned to the fear of having no job and not being able to afford to pay the bills.
There were many sleepless nights.
Thankfully, passenger demand bounced back – first in the summer of 2020 when there weren’t any vaccines and then an even bigger surge in 2021. I was lucky enough to return to the skies doing the job I love pretty early. It’s being an eventful 18-months and I’ve certainly been busy.
And somehow I’ve managed to remain COVID-19 free. I’m grateful for the fact that in many countries, flight attendants and other aviation workers have been prioritised for vaccination. I certainly took the offer of the shot at the earliest opportunity and it allayed some of my worst fears about the virus.
Yes, I know that the airline industry insists that flying is a relatively safe environment and the risk of catching COVID-19 is pretty low. Safety measures like universal mask-wearing help, as do HEPA air filters and the unique top-to-bottom airflow that are built into modern jet planes.
But when you’ve flown as much as I have done over the last 18-months – often to countries badly affected by the pandemic – you come to believe your luck is going to run out at some point. Especially when you’ve been forced into isolation several times because contact tracers have linked you as close contact of an infected passenger.
Sometimes you wonder whether it was that passenger who insisted on lowering their mask whenever they spoke to you – it happens all the time.
Getting to grips with COVID-19 health measures has been part and parcel of the job. Regular swab testing and enforced quarantine is now a way of life.
And I consider myself lucky. There are many flight attendants who have spent far longer in solitary quarantine. At times, it has been incredibly lonely. Flying can be a pretty lonely job at the time best of times but being stuck in a hotel room is tough.
This isn’t the job that I or my colleagues chose but we see things getting better.
Airlines are already hiring flight attendants and other workers in their thousands and the risk of succumbing to COVID-19 has been dramatically reduced. The airline industry was vilified for spreading the virus around the world but people can’t wait to be able to travel again.
And I’m here to say you can do it safely.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.