“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
I haven’t posted my opinion on the pandemic, the lockdown, and the effects of it, probably because I haven’t dealt with it entirely. Everyday I struggle with a challenging thought, a result of Covid-19. Our country sits at an unfortunate disadvantage economically because we were blindsided by a virus no one seems to understand well enough to combat. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to any of you, or encourage any of you when I find myself stuck in a limbo of negative thoughts and fear.
Like most South Africans, I haven’t been to work in over a month and what a challenge it has been. I think during this time many of us have had many quiet moments to reflect on how blessed we really are to have our jobs in the economy we are in. I spend majority of my time frustrated by my job, my colleagues and the passengers, but during the lockdown I’ve literally missed all those little things I assumed I hated because I’m too busy managing life in between the odd hours of my long shifts.
I decided it’s enough moping about the horrible hit aviation has suffered due to Covid-19, and I want to take some time to reflect on the things I love about my job, about life as an aviation worker, reminisce on the moments with all the other aviation kids… When you take a moment away from the craziness of the airport, there really is a lot to enjoy about such cutthroat industry.
Here are 10 things I miss about aviation during the lockdown:
- MY COLLEAGUES & SUPERIORS
I spend about 8 hours everyday with my colleagues, and I take at least 30 mins of that to get on my supervisor’s last nerve. We go through crazy passenger tantrums together, we spend birthdays together and have midnight laughing sessions after our late shifts, have arguments with our supervisors, and then spend the rest of the evening having dance parties and participating in trending videos (don’t ask). Given the amount of time I spend at the airport, my best friends are aviation workers, they understand my schedule, they understand the way I speak and the language in which I speak, we have the same frustrations, we love criticising all the airport restaurants for an hour each day and complaining about all the crazy things we deal with daily, We fight too, all the time, there’s a lot of high school drama, and different cliques but we find ourselves having each other’s backs, we go through life together and push each other to be better than we were the day before.
If you know me personally, I spend half my day at the airport and the other half complaining about the airport and a lot of complaints involve passengers. We are taught that passengers are directing their anger at the company but it doesn’t mean we aren’t still annoyed that they are yelling AT US over something really ridiculous like not having cable ties, or the fact that they are late and we have denied them check in but, and that’s a huge BUT, I really miss the little spats I have with passengers daily, it keeps my day entertained, and it keeps Brad entertained when I rant to him every evening.
- PASSPORT/VISA CHECKS
I really actually hated being rostered to do regional flights for an AM shift, only because you have a dozen tour groups and the system gets a little wonky and also, all the foreigners want a window seat, its as if middle and aisles don’t exist to them and with the limited English they understand, how do you explain that all the windows are taken whilst they keep responding to every question you ask them with “window”? What I do enjoy about this though is looking at how every country’s passports are so unique, I play a game in my head to guess the country every time I glance at a passport before accepting it to do my checks, which with Covid-19 I don’t think I’ll be holding onto passports in a hurry so everyone should look up how to swipe their own passports at the check in counters.
Ok, this is a given, there really is no concept of time at the airport and we all have the most bizarre eating habits. Chicken Licken’s hot wings at 7am and an iced coffee in the middle of winter, no-one even bats an eyelash. We have some great food at the airport and man I miss binging for an hour with my friends, throwing laughter in the air of the restroom like confetti.
- SPECIALS [SPCLs]
Most people won’t really understand this one, but the real ones know. Let me explain: Specials is basically the unaccompanied minors waiting room, or passengers that are unfamiliar with the airport and need to be walked to the gate but to us, this room is really a little piece of heaven. Want to take a bomb selfie because your makeup looks good, the lighting in SPCLs though. Need to fill up your water bottle, SPCLs. Don’t want to deal with your colleagues that day, SPCLs. Can’t find your friend to tell her some juicy gossip, she’s probably in SPCLs. Need to take a quick call, SPCLs. Need to check your emails in private, SPCLs. Basically, if you have questions, you’re probably going to find the answer in SPECIALS!
- DURBAN PASSENGERS
I know I mentioned passengers already, but DUR passengers are really a different breed altogether. Most of my colleagues laugh when I try to avoid Indian passengers, being Indian myself it may come across as rude to you or confusing but if an old Indian uncle isn’t trying to talk me up for his grandson accompanying him then he’s probably flirting with me, or an Indian lady expecting ‘better from me’ because I refused to waiver her excess charges and then proceeding to complain to my supervisor about my poor customer service because she didn’t get her way, or a group of Indian boys that think they’re the hottest thing after Ranveer Singh as they casually let me know they have a bomb in their suitcase, “ok Rajesh, pause the swag while I get the bomb squad!” and then you’re blessed with these beautiful slay queens for a girls weekend getting highly frustrated and throwing attitude at me for making them unpack their suitcase that’s about 8 kgs over the weight limit – I MISS YOU GUYS, you guys make me laugh the most and my days are incomplete without your presence, I miss your drama and man, keep being you!
I love watching drama, some may say that my airport persona is a little feisty drama queen. Transit is such a horrid place for passengers and it is really sad when you’re down there basically in the basement of the airport, it’s a dimly lit room where passengers that have no visa to enter the country, so they need to hop off their international arrival, get checked in at the transit desk and then proceed to the gates. In some cases passengers connecting flights are hours later, the next day or in the horrible instance, they’ve missed it and need to rebook – also, note that if you arrive at 8am and your flight is 8pm, you are confined down there till about 5pm and sometimes security doesn’t let you go through without a boarding pass that you need from the desk that only opens AT FIVE PM. Explaining transit would take a decade to be really honest but the only reason I love going down there is all these big international airlines down there have so many ridiculous issues, and I love spending my AM shifts watching an English speaking agent explain complex aviation technicalities to someone who’s first language is probably something the agent can’t even pronounce.
- “OCC HELLO”
So when you call to get assistance for a wheelchair, you need to get a reference so they can send an agent with a wheelchair to your desk and I have a love/hate relationship with those guys, we have never met any of them, all we know are their voices and they know ours. It’s a really bizarre form of friendship but that really is the only way to explain how easy friendships are made at the airport. Random conversation, bumping into each other at the parking lot or level 2 (food court) – we probably wouldn’t be friends outside of this environment but in here, there’s a weird form of bond that keeps us close. I miss those little moments of unlikely friendships that happen over delayed flights and misconnections. The familiarity of our jobs just makes it easy to have conversation.
- THE AIRCRAFTS
I know I work in aviation and see aircrafts literally everyday but I still get excited… It’s kind of like we barely hear any of the aircrafts when we’re in the terminal and every once in a while we hear the roar of an aircraft above us and it’s like an involuntary childlike response to perk up at the sound in excitement. That’s what its like, I mean yeah, it sucks being so close and not going anywhere but these huge things hold so much power, what a beautiful invention that allows us to see parts of a world that seems so far away from our grasps. When I worked at the gates, I loved walking down when the aircraft was empty and just staring into it, a little creature inside this huge vessel that is about to transport about a hundred people to an exciting new destination or taking them back to theirs homes.
- AIRPORT COMMUNITY
As a passenger, your view of the airport is basically terminal, check-in desk, check-in agent, security, security agents, boarding gates, boarding staff, aircraft, crew, pilot, and destination. For us, the airport looks a little different, check-in staff, check-in superiors, ACSA, airport police, fragile guys, porters, trolley guys, wheelchair agents, boarding staff, ramp agents, baggage handlers, tour leaders, technical, rebates, OPS, AMC, catering, and the list honestly goes on for a century and a half. The airport community is huge, there are roles passengers do not have any idea exist but to us it’s normal, we know who we’re calling when we’re calling and why we need to call, we speak a language that can sound confusing, our abbreviations are ridiculous and spelling is really fun, NATO phonetics, it’s honestly like second nature.
That is why flattening the curve not only ensures our country can recover from this pandemic, but also so the airport community can go back to what we know and love, our jobs rely solely on travel and with a global pandemic that seems almost impossible, we know the fear of flying will be more than just turbulence and unfamiliar terminals, it’s a question of safety and we want to go back ‘home’ so we can help our passengers curb the fear and find their love of travel again.
I know a lot of this is trivial, I miss the most ridiculous things about the airport but all those really crazy things put a smile on my face and I think that’s worth remembering during such a sad, uncertain time.
If you’re an aviation worker, what do you miss most? – all my love and prayer to you guys, we’ll get to go home soon, it will be a mess and we’ll love it.
If you’re a traveler, what destination are you excited to visit when all of this is over? Be safe, take precautions and keep travel close to your heart, we will float on clouds again!