AirAsia’s Head of Communications and Public Affairs Steve Dailisan recently took to Facebook to share the challenges he went thru over the past few years. These include losing his job as a pilot at Cebu Pacific in July 2020—he was one of the more than 800 employees laid off at the height of the pandemic. This was made even more painful by the death of his father Sancho Dailisan the following month.
“[My father] passed away not being able to board any of my flights,” Steve lamented on Facebook. “It was both our dream to fly to his hometown, Kalibo. It never happened.”
When he recently earned his wings back and relaunched his career as First Officer Dailisan with Malaysia’s largest airline, the guy can’t help but feel emotional. He dedicated his “small win” to the one person who “never doubted that I'd be able to make it”—his father.
Steve tells ANCX it never crossed his mind that he could become a pilot because he comes from a poor family. “Noong bata kasi ako, parang suntok sa buwan na pangarapin talaga to become a pilot,” he says. “I thought it was far-fetched.”
The third among four children, Steve says he had a rough childhood, brought about by his parents’ separation when he was six. He and his siblings had to move homes several times, moving from one parent to the other. They lived in Zamboanga, Aklan, Quezon City, and Bulacan.
“Yung pag-aaral ko nung high school at college, talagang itinawid lang namin,” says Steve. He practically made it thru scholarships. He was initially thinking of taking up an engineering course at the University of the Philippines, something close to his father’s field of work, which is architecture. But in order to ensure he’d be able to finish his college education, Steve opted to enroll at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines where he had full scholarship. There he chose to pursue journalism instead. “Back in high school, I would often join writing contests, so I thought this may be the field for me,” he recalls thinking.
He worked as a reporter in GMA-7 for a good 12 years but his fascination for aviation never left him. “When I was a journalist, talagang naa-amaze ako kapag pinapadala ako sa coverage, sumasakay ng eroplano,” he says. “Tapos I had a chance before to cover the takeoff of USS George Washington. I was also a big fan of air crash investigation documentaries.”
Steve considers the year 2017 as a major turning point. “Sabi ko, ‘Ito ba ang gusto kong gawin for the remainder of my career?’” That’s when he seriously entertained the thought of becoming a pilot. “Kasi if hindi ko pa siya gagawin, I was 31 or 32 back then, there might not be a chance to do it.”
Her mother understandably had apprehensions about his plan to switch to aviation; he’s begun to establish his place in the broadcast industry. But Steve told her, “I really wanted to do this. I prayed hard about this.”
Steve remembers listing down on a cartolina all the things he needed to do to become a pilot—including the money he needed to raise and the trainings he needed to take. He filed for an early retirement and started his pilot training in 2018. He took up a private pilot training course at Alpha Aviation Group (AAG) and later transferred to Leading Edge International Aviation Academy Inc. (LEIAAI). While studying, he did consultancy work, took on hosting gigs, and all the rackets he could possibly accommodate. Before long, he was a certified pilot.
Steve was at the right place but at the wrong time when he got accepted at Cebu Pacific. He was hired by the Gokongwei-owned airline in October of 2019 and underwent training thereafter. But when he started to fly in January of 2020, the Covid pandemic was on its onset. Until March of that year, he was flying for an average of 80 to 90 hours per month. His last flight was June 6 of the same year, a day after the 70th birthday of his dad. Steve was retrenched in July.
Fortunately, a new work opportunity came up the following month. He found out AirAsia was looking for a public affairs manager, specifically a pilot with an extensive media experience. The role fit him to a T, and he got hired at the multinational low-cost airline on August 1. But this good news would soon be taken over by a tragedy: he lost his father on August 17.
“Everything happened so fast. I wasn’t able to mourn the death of my dad,” he tells us with a somber voice. “It was like I saw him today and then the following day, he was already in a body bag. The next day, his body was already being cremated [part of the protocol that time even for patients who did not die of Covid].”
Steve and his siblings could not fully fathom what happened. “It was like we rushed him to the hospital today, then the following morning he was already comatose. Then I was informed that he was intubated. Three hours after, he was gone.” The cause of his father’s death was unknown; he tested negative for Covid.
“His death hit me hard,” Steve recalls in his Facebook post. “I had a hard time accepting it.”
Without going into details, the pilot-slash-communications exec describes his first two years at AirAsia as very challenging. “When I left AirAsia in October , it was more of saving myself from all of the pain and agony. I decided to walk away.”
After his resignation, he took a breather, had a vacation with his mother, and during the latter part of that year, found a job outside aviation. “Sabi ko, maybe it’s enough. Kasi enduring the pandemic [in the aviation industry] was really tough,” he says.
A few months went by and AirAsia’s upper management convinced him to return. After a long time of thinking, he decided to give it “one last try.” He rejoined AirAsia in January of this year and began his pilot training again the same month. In April, he got to fly an actual aircraft again with passengers on board. Three days ago, he finished his training and evaluation.
“I have come to understand that sometimes we need to allow ourselves to let the course of life take us,” he wrote on Facebook, “to just go with the flow, to be carried to wherever the wind takes us, and simply trust the process. And I did all that.”
His experiences taught him an important lesson, something he also learned from being a journalist—never give up. “When you are confronted with a roadblock, you would find another way to get through it. There’s always a workaround,” Steve says with a smile. As the saying goes, the path to success is not always a straight line. “You can take a left or right and still reach your destination for as long as you really know what you want in life.”
He dedicated his feat to his family and friends, and most especially to his dad. Steve showed us a photo of a keepsake—a necklace with a pendant containing his father’s ashes—the he brings with him in all his flights. “When I was about to land last time, sabi ko, ‘This is for you, dad,” he says, gently wiping his tears.
He may not be able to fly his dad to his hometown, “but I promise to be an instrument of safe and happy reunions of families, friends and colleagues.”