Andrea Taylor shares the truth of what it’s like to be a flight attendant during COVID-19.
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It’s no secret the pandemic has irrevocably altered traveling. Over the last two years, dozens of flyers have shared their stories and experiences. But what of those working in the sky?
Even as the pandemic rages outside planes, flight attendants continue to work, getting flyers from point A to B. In a way, they are essential workers and on the frontlines of this virus, watching as covid evolves with the travel industry.
They were there in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit the world full force and airports emptied. The once busiest places in the world were desolate. “It was a ghost town,” said Andrea Taylor, a current flight attendant. “I still get goosebumps.”
Taylor started as a flight attendant for a low-cost airline just months before the pandemic hit, unaware of the precarious storm coming. “It’s a night and day difference,” she said, comparing what it was like to work before and during COVID. “We get a lot of first-time fliers and to their, you know, benefit, they don’t know how to act,” says Taylor. “They see what flying is like on TV, and they kind of just expect that.”
One of the most significant changes from the pandemic was the federal mask mandate. At any airline, before buying a ticket, one must check the box, a commitment to wearing a face covering for the entire flight. It is the new non-negotiable rule of flying.
There are those, however, that continue to fight against the rules. “People like to throw in “Oh, it’s not a law,”’ said Taylor. “No, it’s a federal mandate.” Taylor says it’s very frustrating when these people push back on the rules they consented to follow as if the checkbox was only a suggestion.
Taylor, however, has learned a few tricks from her co-workers on handling flyers who won’t wear a mask. The trick is the timeless childhood game “got your nose.” The same game parents play with giggling children, pretending to steal their noses. “It sounds so lame,” laughed Taylor. “But it eases in like, hey; you need to wear your mask properly.”
Also, before every flight, the pilot briefs the crew, monitoring who might be a problem. If someone refuses to wear their mask, they are escorted off the plane by the crew or police. Taylor has even had to go back to the gate from the tarmac before, throwing the entire schedule off. “Yeah, it is a big deal,” she said.
Another new frustrating reality the pandemic brought to flying is the increased cancellations and delays. There have been many moments where airlines have canceled hundreds of flights in a day, or the airports are peppered with delays.
These inconveniences are the consequences of COVID. “I don’t think people realize, you know, when you get COVID, you’re quarantined for what is it? Ten days, five days,” said Taylor. “And when everybody’s getting positive results, well, that’s like a domino effect. You can’t have a full flight crew.”
Aviation workers are not invincible and contract COVID like everyone else. While they try to take precautions, flight crews still interact with people daily. The reality of working for a flight crew is having an increased likelihood of testing positive. So, sometimes “they just don’t have the manpower to staff them,” said Taylor.
Often, the frustration of flyers is directed at airline workers. People need a place to project their anger, forgetting that it disrupts the schedules of airline workers too. “It takes a toll,” she said, constantly having to take the brunt of people’s anger when she has no control over whether a flight is canceled or delayed. She is just the middleman, trying to keep everyone calm and comfortable.
As states have started to remove mask mandates, easing restrictions, Taylor is unsure whether airlines will follow suit. “I could see some airlines making their flight attendants and passengers still wearing them to make other people feel safe,” said Taylor. “Or I could see a lot of airlines getting rid of it.”
Even with the raging virus, cancellations, delays, and inconsiderate flyers, Taylor wouldn’t want any other job. “Once you get a taste for aviation, you just can’t go back,” she said. Though some of her coworkers haven’t felt the same way, many of them filter off to different career paths, though mostly still in aviation. “A lot go to be pilots,” said Taylor.
Taylor had to sit in the cockpit once while the pilot used the bathroom. It was an overcast day with low visibility. As she sat there, staring at the dense wall of gray, she knew the pilot’s life was not for her. “I don’t like not seeing what’s in front of me,” said Taylor. “My anxiety was just through the roof.”
For now, Taylor is satisfied with her job and wouldn’t want it any other way. And for all the flyers out there, Taylor says, “Wear your mask properly, and it should be smooth sailing.”
Watch the Deep Dive episode above to learn more about flight attendant secrets, private flying, and the Bermuda Triangle route.