“ORD – SFO. 6 passengers. This has rapidly become the new normal…” Molly Choma’s instagram caption reads. “It’s simultaneously eerie and peaceful to be on an airplane right now.” Molly, a commercial flight attendant and professional photographer, shares in words and photos what it’s like being a flight attendant during COVID-19. Her portrayal is poignant. Haunting. Reality. Since coronavirus took over our lives and the media, I haven’t found anyone who has said what I’ve been feeling, fearing, and figuring out how to cope with better than Molly. She’s presenting the facts and fears; realness and rawness; and the incredibly ‘hard-to-believe’ place that the aviation industry has landed. But, believe it or not— like it or not— we have entered a “NEW FLIGHT ATTENDANT LIFE.’
This ‘New Flight Attendant Life’ is not pretty. It’s hard. It’s more lonely than ever before. It’s unsettling. It’s scary. It’s more than I know how to describe. Molly’s photos have resonated, feeling an ache when I see the emptiness of the dimly lit aircraft cabins. I notice the masks and wonder how we so quickly went from carefree galavanting to isolated chaos. This was not where travel was a month and a half ago. This was not where my career was three weeks ago.
It’s hard to comprehend and wrap my mind around how I will go from a projected six-figure salary to making a poverty-line income this upcoming year due to this global pandemic. I’m not alone in a dire job-outlook. We are all being hit in ways that we never imagined by COVID-19. My friends are losing their full-time jobs. All non-essential travel has been cancelled till further notice. Airline employees are being furloughed left and right. This was never what we expected, anticipated, or prepared for. How could we? There was never a better time to see the world and explore. There was never a better time to chase your dreams. Oh how fucking quickly life changes.
There has never been a better testament to the truth that we must never put off tomorrow what we can do today. We just can’t say, “I’ll do that tomorrow,” as tomorrow may never come in the way we anticipated. Think about how we traveled so freely merely weeks ago. We had plans and ideas and ways we would live. Our expectations of what we can trust in and believe in have been shaken. Employers can’t promise that they will have a job for you. You can’t bet that you will go to the market and there will be toilet paper. There isn’t a promise you will be healthy in a week. We don’t know our futures, but we do know right now. And right now, we must learn to adjust.
COVID-19 is SIGNIFICANTLY changing the way that we are living as flight attendants, but if anyone is incredibly adept at adapting, it’s us. Adaptability is literally part of our job descriptions. Accept that life is NOT what it was and adapt to be the BEST humans and professionals we can be in this moment, as this is the only moment we know we have. Adapting means we are more careful with our interactions. Adapting means we are more deliberate in our sanitation. Adapting means we are more cognizant of how our interactions affect others. Adapting means we might not have the answers but we are willing to face the problems and search for solutions. COVID-19 does not need to be an entirely negative experience, but it is a huge wake up call.
I never comprehended that the world would, or could, “close.” I never fathomed that beaches would be empty and fines issued for surfing. I never feared that my germs could hurt someone or that I had to stay away from people because their presence might hurt me. I wish there was more I could say or that I could make sense of the confusion of the past few weeks, but where I always circle back to is the conclusion that, ‘This is a lot.’ We are facing a lot.
I know we are all adjusting. It’s strange to live in such fear and uncertainty. My friend Sara and I have stopped talking about what we will do next week or next month as that leads to the biggest fucking question mark and an infinity of ‘I don’t knows.’ So, we talk about today. We talk about the conversations that we had this past week and the way the bike ride I took reminds to experience beauty, even in this space of unknown. We might not know how we will pay our bills, if we will get sick, or what will happen a few months from now, but what is happening today— that remains beautiful. What is happening today that you would have always thought was beautiful but didn’t take the time or stillness to recognize? You have time now. We have time. That is one of the things I’m most grateful for today, in this season of a global pandemic. I’m so thankful for time.
There are some things about this ‘new normal’ that I’m living in that I find to be a blessing. I’m not discounting the gravity of the situation from an economic or health standpoint but instead, I’m only choosing to see something bright within the darkness. I must because otherwise, I won’t survive emotionally. Within struggle, your most valuable asset is your mind. Protect that. Protect your thoughts. Build yourself up in the ways that you can. Find the ‘little things’ that line the storm clouds with bits of silver. There are silver linings. Maybe not many, but they are there if you choose to look one more time. I must keep searching for my own silver linings, because if I don’t, all I feel is terror. I don’t want to feel that. Maybe my personal lesson in all of this is to learn that, no matter what challenges are surrounding and swirling externally, I can find peace and gratitude within. That through faith and friendship; stillness and gratitude, I can stay strong and grounded. That I can stay calm and sure in the uncertainty. That I will NOT lose my long term vision for the short term challenge. A huge lesson that has struck close due to the changes brought on by COVID-19 is that all can be lost in an instant, but your character cannot be lost so easily if you choose to hold on. So, hold on. You are bigger and stronger and emotionally healthy (and physically healthy) enough to weather 2020.
I skim through anothor one of Molly’s Instagram posts. “Sometimes I wonder why the hell we’re still flying.” she writes. “A minute later I’m tearing up with gratitude that I’m able to keep working. Most of the time I keep my distance and then suddenly just want to hug someone.” I can’t wait to hug someone.”
I think we will all appreciate people so much more after this season. I know I can’t hug you right now, but consider this a virtual hug. I know we don’t have it figured out. I’m not saying, “Just be positive” and this will go away. I’m saying that although we may be alone in proximity, we can still feel together in all of this shit.
Lots of love — in a social distancing sort of way.
Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.