The coronavirus crisis, a flight attendant’s perspective

The COVID-19 crisis has grounded aviation crews everywhere. We’ve asked long-haul flight attendant and RosterBuster user Laura Baxter, who has written a helpful guide on how to cope with the lockdown, how she is experiencing it all and how it affects her life.

When was the first time you were aware of COVID-19?

At the end of January, we were given reminders of the procedure for dealing with communicable disease onboard and the importance of cabin crew practising good hygiene. Good hygiene includes crew washing their hands regularly, carrying alcohol-based hand sanitiser and using gloves for tasks such as clearing in rubbish and checking toilets. The first time I remember being questioned about coronavirus was when I flew into Miami at the beginning of February, and the immigration officer asked me if I had been in China in the last 14 days.

I did my next few trips to Los Angeles and New York and I don’t remember any changes – situation normal! Then it was around the third week into February that I noticed a shift. The name ‘coronavirus’ was changed to ‘COVID-19’ We were talking about it in every pre-flight briefing.

When were you aware that COVID-19 would significantly affect your airline?

By mid-March, I noticed that passenger numbers had significantly decreased on our flights. I worked a trip to New York in the middle of March and while we had not heard anything official, the crew were very aware that this could be our last flight until after the COVID-19 outbreak.

I remember I had a couple of trips to Buenos Aires rostered and I was taken off them as I believe the restrictions there were stricter than USA (at that time). After that trip to New York, my roster was empty and it has been announced that no flights could enter the USA from Europe, including the UK. I remember preparing myself for lockdown – I put my uniform and suitcases away and did a big food shop.

How were your last flights?

I was surprised to then get changed onto a New York trip. One of my biggest takeaways from this whole situation is that I want to walk that balance of being mindful and taking the necessary precautions to take care of myself, but I also don’t believe in living in fear. Going to work for that final New York flight was slightly nerve-wracking, but I’m very proud to do the job I do and I’m committed to showing up for my airline and our passengers with professionalism and a friendly attitude. A comforting thing in all this is the fact that literally everyone in the world is in the same position – there is a real sense of solidarity.

That final trip to New York was different to other trips. Breakfast was takeaway only and although I’m not sure if a strict lockdown was put into place at that point, I made the decision to stay in my room for the whole trip. A bit of a shame because I absolutely love New York, but I knew that it was necessary for me to do my part to stop myself and others being infected.

During boarding and landing for those flights, we had additions to our usual PAs with recommendations on how to adhere to social distancing during the flight, asking passengers to maintain a distance of 2 metres/6 feet between crew and other passengers. Before we left New York, the airport’s station manager came onboard the aircraft to do an announcement, telling the passengers that it would be our last flight out of there for at least a month, and also thanking the passengers from all of the airline’s employees for flying with us. I did get emotional at this point! I’ve worked at my airline for 4 years and if this situation has taught me anything, it’s how much I genuinely love my job and how lucky I feel to work there.

How did you feel the day the UK went into lockdown?

It was the day after I got back from that New York trip that we had an announcement from our Prime Minister that the UK was going into lockdown to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve. It wasn’t a huge surprise but it was still a lot to take in. It’s the first time any of us have been in this situation so it felt uncomfortable. But I’m an optimist and after taking a couple of days to process what was happening, I decided to make the best of the situation – suddenly I had all of this free time on my hands!

What’s your hope for the future?

I’m looking forward to the day that we start flying again, but only when it is safe to do so. I’m mindful that things aren’t going to go back to normal immediately – it’s going to take time. And a lot of people are saying that the world will be permanently changed after this outbreak, so who knows what our new ‘normal’ will look like?

As I said before, I’ve always loved my job and I feel blessed that I actually get excited about going to work, but this outbreak and taking a break from flying has just reinforced that feeling of how lucky I am to do what I do. I feel like I will have a new-found appreciation for the job and I’ll never take it for granted!

I love to live in the moment – I want to focus on what is happening right now. So while I do look forward to getting back to flying, I’m focused on what I can do right now in my current situation. I love to do home workouts, read, call my family, listen to podcasts and work on my business Sky High Wellbeing.

Sky High Wellbeing is a wellbeing service tailored specifically to flight attendants.

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