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Looking Back on a Year of COVID

Date: March 12, 2021

It was one year ago yesterday, on March 11, 2020, when a string of events clarified the severity of the COVID-19 for many Americans. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson said they were sick with the virus, the NBA suddenly shut down after a player got COVID-19 and the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic.

So here we are one year later, and we remember that for many of us, this was some distant flu, kicking around in a place call Wuhan and suddenly, it seemed, it was declared a global pandemic. Most of the illnesses were still in China, with the U.S. only identifying about 700 cases, but by that point the genie was out of the bottle. Suddenly we were headed towards a health crisis on a scale that none of us had seen in a lifetime.

We are all familiar with what followed: initially, the pull down of our flying to China, and then the collapse of more and more international flying as countries closed their borders, entry restrictions skyrocketed and demand plummeted.   Our industry was buoyed by the first Payroll Support Program (PSP), which provided the “calm before the storm” summer.  Some of us recall going to the airport for an airport standby and seeing only a handful of United planes at the gates, while dozens were parked in storage out on the tarmac.  An eerie quiet, the likes of which we’ve never seen, was prevalent throughout normally busy airport concourses. The few flights we did have were mostly empty and surreal with an abbreviated service as people quietly traveled hidden behind their masks and speaking in hushed voices.

What followed in the fall was another first in our industry and for our airline as over half our Flight Attendant population was subject to furlough and mitigation programs.  Whether you were able to take a voluntary furlough or COLA(s) and take time away from the job or were subject to Reserve for the first time in many years or struggling to find flying to gain hours and make ends meet; for all of us, the change was dramatic and profound.

Being the amazing professionals and career-oriented individuals we all are, with difficulty, we adapted and held on for the turbulent ride.  On this day, one day after one of the most difficult years most of us have ever experienced, it’s important for many of us to reflect on the pain and difficulty this past year has presented and acknowledge the grief and loss most of us have experienced to varying degrees. 

With the passage of the third PSP this week, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.  While we are not out of the woods yet, we are in a better position than we have been since the pandemic hit us.  For the next six months, everyone is connected to their pay and healthcare and we can make decisions about our near-term future.  The roll-out of the vaccines in the U.S. is gaining momentum, with a projected 100m Americans to be vaccinated by sometime in May. 

Travel, while very different than what we’re familiar with, is returning and, while we will likely see International and business travel return at some more distant point in the future, every day we are closer to getting through the tunnel and into the light.

While the challenges of this past year cannot be discounted, keep in mind that we made our way through it, together and we’re still here.  As with other events in our aviation history, no one on the outside can or will ever realize what this has been like for our Flight Attendant family.

So, on this first day of a “new year,” celebrate each other, mourn with each other and stand proudly with each other in solidarity and with pride that comes from knowing we are here and collectively looking forward to a better tomorrow.

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