How do you say goodbye to a job you love?
That’s exactly what nearly 32,000 airline workers have had to do as of Thursday following industry job cuts. The layoffs are a result of failed attempts to get more federal money to help the nation’s struggling airlines, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said.
Breaunna Ross thought she could hold it together during her last shift as an American Airlines flight attendant, but as soon as she picked up the phone to make her routine landing announcement, she lost her composure.
“This job was an escape for me after being unhappy with my job after graduating college,” she said in her announcement, which a fellow flight attendant caught on video. “It was a job that awarded me many opportunities, a job that I fell in love with.”
The coronavirus pandemic plagued the airline industry, putting a pause on air travel. American Airlines lost $5 billion in the first half of this year, while United Airlines lost $3.3 billion with every other airline in the industry not trailing too far behind. The losses are projected to continue into 2021 if not beyond.
And while it’s easy to get bogged down by the dollar signs, behind them are real people, with real lives suffering real loss.
Laid off airline employees are not getting any benefits other than severance pay. That means no health insurance or free flights, and the airlines have said they don’t know when or if they’ll be needed again. And because of training and recertification requirements, it will be difficult to recall these former employees once they are gone.
While some remain hopeful that they’ll be back flying the friendly skies soon, others aren’t so sure of what the future holds.
‘Everyone is hurting’
Ross, 29, was working a flight from Jacksonville, Florida, on September 27 back to her home base in Dallas, Texas. Upon landing, she picked up the phone to make her routine landing announcement but wanted to leave her passengers and flight crew with a final goodbye message.
She has been working for American Airlines for 2.5 years, and said the job has taken her to places she never thought she’d have the chance to visit and even places she didn’t know existed.
“We are real people,” she said. “I personally have no kids and am not married, but I know so many of my coworkers who are … Who just bought homes. Who have small children. Who have children in college they have to support. We are a strong group of people and I know everyone will get through this.”
Ross said she couldn’t have asked for a better end to her journey. So many took the time to thank her on their way off the plane, she said. One even passed her a handwritten note to say that they made a donation to the Make A Wish foundation in her honor.
“I don’t know your name, but I know a child’s day will be made better because of you,” the note said.
“I just wish everyone would be a little more kind during these unprecedented times,” she said. “We’re all affected by this pandemic. I feel for everyone. Not just my industry. Everyone is hurting.”
If you scroll through Raymond Dias’s Twitter feed, his passion for advocating for the airline industry is apparent.
While he’s only been with American Airlines for 6 months, he’s been a flight attendant for two years and told CNN he “feels like this purpose I had to make someone smile at least once a day was taken away from me.”
Dias’s last flight was an international overnight flight from Miami, Florida, to the Dominican Republic on September 27. His new home base will be Chicago, Illinois.
In a Twitter video, Dias, 24, can be seen fighting back tears as he talks about packing up his bags for his final flight.
“I love being around people and helping them, and this job was perfect because being on a flight you meet everyone,” he said.
So, what does the future hold for Dias now? He says he’s not entirely sure.
“Flight attendants typically have a hard time finding jobs because employers think the duties of a flight attendant can’t transfer to a normal workplace,” Dias said. “When we are essentially counselors on flights, medical personal, mediators, babysitters and even salespeople, but it’s sad that employers only see us as glorified Coke pourers in the sky when we do way more.”
CNN’s Chris Isidore, Pete Muntean and David Goldman contributed to this report.