Pack Your Patience – COVID-19 Impact Recovery in Business Aviation

By Scott Arnold, Chief Flight Attendant – Private G550 Owner/DaVinci Inflight Training Institute

It’s no secret the majority of us flight attendants are naturally social people. Actually, very social people. Therefore, I’m sure many of you in quarantine and/or being isolated are finding it to be very challenging, frustrating, and maybe even depressing or torturous. Combining this along with those who have been furloughed, laid off, or freelancers completely grounded is an added stressor, no doubt. These are stressful times with no clear endgame in site (as of now).

Instead of writing on all of the “how to’s” of overcoming social distancing and quarantine; fatigue and stress, I want to focus on the career aspect – the impact and affect COVID-19 has had on business aviation, namely your career.

Is this blog going to be all doom and gloom for us corporate flight attendants? Nope.

Why? Because I truly believe there is a light at the end of this tunnel, a brighter light than you may expect, and here’s why…

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 global impact is significant and has placed the majority of our careers on pause and therefore, not only financial stress but emotional stress as well.

Those out of work: Not flying = no income. No income = stress.

Those still employed: Not flying = stress. Not flying but still being paid = guilt.

Although there are several types of stress, ranging between three to five, I am going to focus on one, which I am confident many of you are currently experiencing; acute stress.

ACUTE STRESS defined: An acute stress reaction occurs when symptoms develop due to a particularly stressful event. The word ‘acute’ means the symptoms develop quickly but do not usually last long.

Did you see that? Develops quickly but does NOT last long. The stress we are all currently experiencing is short term. Therefore, “This too shall pass.”

As we know, the economy has taken a significant hit along with a record number of people filing for unemployment. Once the “all clear” has been given and we slowly begin restarting our day-to-day lives— along with businesses reopening, jobs returning, grocery stores restocking the toilet paper again, and social interaction returning in full force. Now, and during the recovery time, is when having and practicing patience is vital. “Back to normal” will not be immediate. It’s nice to believe this will be the case but reality will overrule here. Just as with the sick who need time to recover so does our industry. I know asking those individuals with no income to have patience is a big ask. I get it. However, I can assure you being impatient or focusing on the negatives won’t speed up the recovery.

So Here’s My Forecast – Mostly Sunny with a Slight Chance of Rain

Business aviation really doesn’t fit the standard business model. There are so many various layers to general aviation and all of it was impacted tremendously due to COVID-19 BUT (and this is a but, and a good one)…the portion of the industry we work in, [aka business jets: charter, private owner, and fractional operations, I feel] have the best chance for a speedier recovery. Here’s why:

Corporations will be relaunching and/or returning to full operation status. Therefore, business aviation must also relaunch. In today’s fast-paced world, you cannot have one without the other. They actually sustain each other, successfully, like breathing.

The main factor is: The grounding of all of the flight departments was not economically driven, it was health and safety driven. That’s a big difference. Really big! Yes, the economy has been impacted, of course, and the stock market is wobbling (a lot) but it’s not bottoming out. This is due to the COVID-19’s impact to be forecasted as short term in the grand scheme of things. Things will return to “normal” at some point. Recovery is within reach, it will just take some time.

The large companies and corporations will be relaunching ASAP because they are still financially viable. Charter and private owner flight operations will begin almost immediately because the clientele is still made of up millionaires and billionaires. Sure, they also took a financial hit, but they have been quarantined like the rest of us. My professional projection is that anyone or company with the financial means will immediately initiate travel again, in order to resume their businesses and dealings. They want to get back up and running again, too. The human factor element will prevail in others– as they will want to travel to see family, conduct meetings, and many (like all of us) are very antsy to “Get out of Dodge” after being grounded and locked down for weeks and weeks. I don’t think “cabin fever” will ever be an issue again for our northern friends during winter.

Therefore, in return – the majority of flight operations will resume flying again. This is why they furloughed their employees and are avoiding layoffs, if possible. This is a strategic maneuver. They didn’t want to lose you but they also didn’t have to pay you. Yes, that part sucks, for sure, but (here is another but)…although you have no income, you are still employed and doing so allowed the flight department to retain financial viability. So, once they are ready to resume business as usual, re-establishing your active employee status is almost immediate.

Of course, there are other variables that will come into play in how quickly each operation recovers to optimum efficiency, and the viability of that, after being grounded so long. Maintenance will need to be completed since the jets have been parked for weeks. Perhaps some of the pilot’s currencies are now expired due to not flying. ‘Back up and running’ means the rest of our industry will also be up and running (i.e. scheduling and dispatchers, flight coordinators, mechanics, aviation caterers, FBO’s, line service, detailers, training vendors, and the many other personnel and businesses that support us, and we them). This will then lead to restaurants, various shops and stores, rental cars, hotels, etc. all being fully operational again. Airlines flying again. These are all contributing factors in the business model of the success chain.

This is also why you need to pack your patience! Many of our support operations will not be fully functional right out of the gate. They too were impacted significantly, so it will take time for them to restore their daily operations, staffing, and supplies. Grocery store supplies have been depleted due to high demand of certain items. I expect caterers will also be limited to the supply chain for a while, too.

Unfortunately, small businesses have taken the biggest hit during all of this. They will be the slowest to recover, and hopefully they will, with our constant patronage. I am confident we are all going to be flocking to the bars and restaurants seeking social UN-distancing. They need us now more than ever!

Our industry is often misinterpreted as being frivolous and consisting of nothing but partying, champagne, and caviar at 45,000 ft. That is maybe 5% of business aviation. It’s called BUSINESS aviation for a reason. The naysayers tend to forget these are mainly secure and time-efficient flying offices—not to mention we are often the first responders with humanitarian relief during domestic and global crisis – be it manmade or natural disasters. We still have charter operators flying right now transporting vital medical supplies and personnel globally. This will only increase as flight operations resume.

I truly believe business aviation is going to be a critical component in relaunching our economic recovery by the simple trickledown effect. This type of algorithm always starts at the top and at the top of ours – our owners and clients (aka the top 5% of us humans). The ultra-wealthy have been the negative subject matter in many tax talks these days. They are also the ones who sustain our careers that we all love and benefit from.

In Closing – My Soapbox Rant:

We are all in this together. Through the good, bad and ugly of our industry. We have to be. In times like these patience, unity, and respect is the key to our continued success.

Please don’t cast judgement towards those who are still flying instead of being at home quarantined. Please don’t cast judgement towards those who are still employed, when you are not. Please don’t brag or appear to brag because you still have a job, when others do not.

I’ve witnessed way too much of this over the past few weeks. I know many felt guilty, awkward, or unsure about still flying and were afraid to post anything on social media due to negative bashing. This is what our industry is made up of – independent contractors, employed, OnDemand/OnCall. As contractors, you knew the risks. As employees, nothing is set in stone.

News Flash: Business Aviation is not shut down. Yes, many companies have grounded their fleet, furloughed employees, slowed things WAY down. However, there are still flight operations who are still flying, just like the commercial airlines. Limited flying but still flying! Every single crewmember, currently out there in the field, are all doing their part in “flattening the curve” by taking all of the necessary and responsible precautions. ALL OF THEM!

There are so many reasons why clients still need to fly. So many. It’s no one’s place to cast judgement on the crew conducting these trips from your homebound sofa without knowing the facts. The financial impact has been (and will continue to be) severe enough on many of our fellow comrades. We’ve heard that some Lead Flight Attendants are tracking contractors who publish on social media that they are still flying and then blacklisting from their department. All because they are still accepting trips? These Leads are justifying this by claiming that the CFA’s currently flying are not adhering to the industry’s standard of ‘Best Practices.’ Seriously?” Have you seen the chain of command for the average flight department?

Director of Aviation

Chief Pilot

Captains

First Officers

Chief Flight Attendant

Flight Attendant

We’re at the bottom of the food chain. Holding the lowest position on the pole. A certain level of accountability for flying is required but this ‘finger-pointing accountability’ for flying is ridiculous! It’s like stepping over a dollar to pick up a quarter. If you are going to hold anyone accountable, start at the top.

WE ALL NEED TO BE IN THIS TOGETHER. The employed, the unemployed, the furloughed, and those who are still out flying in the thick of it. Together. We are stronger together! If you are blacklisting these contractors, please give me a call. I’d like to have a conversation with you.

These are uncertain and impactful times, for all of us.

It’s ok to be concerned.

It’s ok to be nervous.

It’s ok to be stressed.

It’s ok to be sad.

It’s ok to be lonely.

These are all acute. These too shall pass.

However, stupid is usually forever.

*This blog post was first published on Flightattendantlife.com

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