Singaporeans have always loved travel and so did I. In fact, that’s why I became an air stewardess. I love my job and I enjoy being on the plane, having that sense of excitement as we take off and land at different places.
Of course, the layouts and attractive staff perks are also some of the main reasons I became a flight attendant. My life was fun — comprising of travelling from one exotic place to the next. It was fluid, spontaneous and changing; there was never a dull moment, like how I feared a regular 9 to 5 would be.
Then in around April 2020, Covid-19 happened and the planes (and the world) grinded to a halt.
Unprecedented border closures were issued by governments all over the world and countries went into lockdown. Singapore was not spared. We too, went into lockdown and into a phase we now know as “Circuit Breaker”.
Early pandemic days
When the pandemic just begun, I remember being advised to put on masks and gloves on flights. Hand sanitisers became our best friends.
I was still able to go on flights until around mid-March, even with all the travel bans around the world. Passenger load initially was 90% full, but it quickly dwindled to only 50%. Sometimes, there could be fewer than 20 passengers in the smaller fleets on a return sector back to Singapore.
During our usual schedules, we work on flights around 60 to 100 hours a month. But by mid-March of 2020, all my layovers and flights were cancelled, leaving my roster empty and my mind uneasy.
Our airports fell silent. Even our usually bustling streets became quiet ghost towns. For me, the silence was deafening. The aviation industry is one of the worst affect sectors, and the changes that came swiftly and unexpectedly were brutal.
In an instant, it felt like we not only lost our jobs, but also our identities.
By April and May, flights have not resumed. Questions such as — if I wasn’t an air stewardess anymore, then what am I? — began to surface in my mind.
It started looking like it would be a long time before things could return to some sliver of normalcy and I could fly again. I decided that I needed to do something else for my job and my future, so I began looking through internship and work opportunities.
I was also sick of staying home, with no work on my hands.
I started scrolling through announcements on my work portal and saw a job opportunity listed by a social service office to assist with government grants for the public. I applied for it and hoped for the best.
To my relief, my office contacted me the next day — I was scheduled to start work the day after. Back to work, finally!
I found my work at the social service office particularly meaningful as the experience opened my eyes to the everyday struggles of low-income families and homeless people in Singapore. Slowly, my initial plan to work at the social service office for a month evolved into a fruitful nine-month stint that I would always look back and be grateful for.
As I look back at that period of time, I feel gratitude for the staff union’s help. Even though I was upset that my chosen job as an air stewardess was rudely disrupted, I’m thankful that I still had a source of income and was able to show up to work every day.
As the flight industry took a huge hit and things looked bleak, the staff union extended various employment opportunities such as care ambassadors in hospitals and support at government agencies.
It meant a lot to the flight crews as having alternative jobs — just having something to do — really helped tide us through what I hope was the worst of Covid-19.
A wake-up call
Another thing I realised: because the entire disruption was so shocking, it triggered me to reflect deeply on my own life.
I knew that content creation was something I’ve always loved to do, but wasn’t prioritising that enough. I let myself get swept up by life’s happenings.
Because of the pandemic, I was able to use the free time I suddenly had to begin my content creation journey on my blog called A Singaporean Abroad. I created the blog mainly in hopes of supplementing my income and also share my love of travel.
My mission? To share flying stories and tips, Muslim-friendly travel itineraries, halal food around the globe and sharing the Muslim narrative through travel. Muslim travel is often underrepresented and I knew that Muslim travellers like me are a large and untapped market. This idea had always been in the back of my mind since 2017 when I went on a working holiday visa, but I never really worked on it —I’m so glad that the Circuit Breaker gave me the final push to really start it and I hope to make it a big part of my future soon.
Apart from this, I also did something completely out of my comfort zone — I held a live webinar class on Zoom teaching aspiring freelance writers in Singapore how to start writing for publications. I also subsequently created an online course, under ‘Freelance Writer SG’.
I am really loving all these mini projects I embarked on because of the pandemic. Hopefully I can continue them even as I return to flying.
2020 was indeed a rollercoaster for everyone, especially for those in industries that were badly hit. But strangely enough, the whole uncertainty of it all gave me the courage and push to try out things that were new and completely out of my comfort zone. What did I have to lose? It allowed me to step out of my own fears and judgement, to do things I would never have believed myself capable of pre-Covid.
Throughout it all, though, one question kept coming up from concerned family and friends: Do you miss flying?
Well, my answer has always been a resounding YES. I miss the unique flying experiences, the thrill of it all, the funny encounters, the food at different places. I especially love hunting for authentic yet halal good food overseas.
I also miss the smiles of passengers, especially those who go the extra mile to say something personally to me, “Thank you for your service, I enjoyed the flight.”
But we cannot control what we cannot control. I can’t make the planes start flying with only my sheer will.
Many of my friends have complained endlessly about how much they miss going on vacations. The truth is, travel is a luxury. Rather than spending my energy lamenting emotionally about how wronged I feel about all this and how much I miss travel, I would rather pick something more positive.
The Covid-19 pandemic also helped me see things more clearly, and helped me pay special attention to my mental health. I even picked up intentional meditation and yoga — things that I have never done before in my 27 years of life — just so I can channel more positive energy into me and focus on the right things.
This tiny switch in perspective can be inconsequential to others, but for me, it was life-changing and it kept me sane.
I just got the news that I’m able to return to flying, and I am so ecstatic!
Albeit with masks, hand sanitisers and the whole thing. Some routes and flights have opened up — thankfully, and I am SO ready to be back.
Sadly, there are some drastic changes due to the new pandemic protocol, such as being required to stay in our rooms during layover. We can no longer be free to travel and explore the lands during layovers — a part that I always looked forward to. We’ll also need to wear a movement tag provided by the aviation authorities.
As I finally return to flying, I am painfully aware that the pandemic is not over. I will be required to take swab tests every two weeks or so, wear face shields and implement the many changes to the new SOPs and service guidelines on flight.
With some countries currently experiencing second and third waves of COVID-19, and the new B117 strain appearing, I know only one thing is for sure: change is constant and we’ll need to embrace it.
And as a flight attendant, I have to be more resilient and take these changes in good stride.
People around me have asked me what is it like to be an air stewardess in 2020 and so this is my story. It’s not a bed of roses, that’s for sure, but it’s not all gloom and doom either. We are all human beings trying to make the most out of our lives. The same goes for me as cabin crew.
Nobody can say when we can resume travel again like the good old days, and nobody can guarantee that the worst of the pandemic is over.
But above it all, I still believe in the magic of flying and the thrill of travelling. I know you do too.
And when it’s safe again, I’ll see you 30,000 feet above the ground.
Amira is a flight attendant who has always been a lover of adventure, writing, and cooking. She also really, really wants to see the Southern Lights! Follow her adventures on www.amirapunya.com, and @asingaporeanabroad on Instagram and TikTok.