Jul 19, 2020 • Written by Indigo Sahara
TRAVELING AND THE CORONAVIRUS: A pilot daughter's perspective
(ORD to CDG, 2018.)
Despite a global shortage in toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes, there is absolutely no shortage of opinions voiced on social media regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should we travel during the coronavirus outbreak?
To go on vacation or not to go on vacation — that is the question. Hundreds of thousands of schools, universities and other public institutions are closing worldwide, so should we really take that trip out west we have been planning for months?
Some travel plans are going to be called off inevitably, as a countless number of flights have been canceled in efforts to reduce the spreading of the virus. Likewise, the U.S. Department of State has issued numerous travel advisories, including a Level 4 (Do Not Travel) advisory for China as well as parts of Italy.
So far, I've probably only told you things that you already knew, but what does this mean for the airline industry and, therefore, airline industry workers?
It's time to shift perspective.
I'm going to get straight to the point here. The job security of pilots, in addition to arguably every other airline and public transportation worker, is greatly dependent on the company's revenue. If no one flies, the airline's revenue plummets. If the airline's revenue plummets, budget is cut, and workers lose their jobs.
To give you a tangible idea of how serious this already is for airline workers, Southwest Airlines Co. CEO Gary Kelly said that he is planning to cut his pay by 10% in order to compensate for the company's loss from coronavirus turmoil, as stated in The Wall Street Journal. Similarly, the Associated Press said that Delta Air Lines, Inc. grounded up to 300 planes, stopped all flights to continental Europe in March and April, planned a $2 billion spending cut, froze hires and suggested unpaid leave to current employees.
Growing up in a pilot family, I have experienced first-hand how the travel-specific economy can impact lives. This is not the first time that the travel industry has taken a crisis hit. The tragedy of 9/11, for example, caused a tremendous travel scare in the U.S., which led to airlines laying off 20% of their workers, according to The New York Times.
My father was one of these pilots. He had just earned captain status, and just like that, the title and promotion were ripped from him completely. Plus, when pilots start at a new airline, seniority starts again at the bottom, so title is not immediately transferred from company to company. His generation of pilots has communally taken a toll as a result of the terrorist-induced Lost Decade.
(My father, Tim Holmes, on the right, during his time as an aerial firefighter after 9/11.)
Okay, but should we travel?
I give this personal anecdote not to guilt you into traveling and further spreading the deadly coronavirus — in fact, I would encourage you not to — but to instead alter your felt-need perspective.
I have been hearing a lot of people say things like, "I better get my money back" and "I can't believe [insert airline] won't give me a full refund." You need to remember that the effect of this coronavirus is beyond yourselves.
Before you get frustrated with an innocent gate agent or cuss out a minimum-wage-making customer service representative over the phone, please consider the financial consequences for travel industry workers. Think of the people impacted that you don't know personally. Think of the aviation family.
(My pilot family, 2019.)