Worry in the skies for Filipino flight crew as coronavirus grounds planes

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 10 2020 02:57 PM | Updated as of Mar 10 2020 03:15 PM

Worry in the skies for Filipino flight crew as coronavirus grounds planes 1
A woman wears a face mask as she exits one of the terminals at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, US, March 9, 2020. Eduardo Munoz, Reuters

MANILA -- In 10 days, Philippine Airlines cut 300 jobs, Cebu Pacific cut senior managers' pay, British airline Flybe collapsed and Australian giant Qantas grounded 8 Airbus jumbo jets.

Travel curbs due to coronavirus outbreak is disrupting world aviation and some Filipino flight crew fear the worst as they attend to few passengers on shortened shifts with their face masks on.

"If the situation with the COVID gets worse, there might be a possibility that we could all go jobless," a flight attendant with a Filipino carrier told ABS-CBN News, asking not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.

The flight attendant cited the shutdown of Flybe in the UK and Cathay Pacific's decision to ask 27,000 employees to take unpaid leaves to cut costs.

"Some of us have invested in houses and cars, some have just started a business, some are preparing to start a family, and a number of us use the salary we get from being a cabin crew member to support our families," she said.

"If the situation does get worse, not only will the airline industry be greatly affected but so will our future," she said.

Cebu Pacific spokeswoman Charo Logarta-Lagamon described the pay cuts as the "right thing to do" to save jobs. Philippine Airlines spokeswoman Cielo Villaluna said the virus outbreak "aggravated" 2019 losses, promoting PAL to let go of 300 workers.

Transport authorities said Tuesday airport charges for airlines would be deferred indefinitely, giving them potential savings of P37 million per month.

BILLIONS IN LOSSES

In the Asia Pacific alone, airlines could lose a combined $27.8 billion of revenue, based on estimates from the International Air Transport Association.

The industry body's projection assumes a 13-percent decline in passenger demand, mostly from China, where the virus originated.

Many countries, including the Philippines, temporarily banned inbound travel from countries with large cases of COVID 19. President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday declared a state of national public health emergency after community transmissions were confirmed.

More than 114,300 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally and over 4,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements.

Italy announced a nationwide lockdown on Monday as it sought to contain the largest outbreak in Europe, with 9,172 cases and 463 deaths.

SHORTER FLYING TIMES

A Filipino pilot said his flying hours were reduced to 50 to 60 hours a month from 80 to 90 hours before outbreak forces the suspension of some routes, mostly to and from China.

While he is "worried," the pilot said his airline appeared to be "too robust" to close down. Airlines are increasing frequencies on domestic routes to make up for the slack in international travel.

"The crewing is distributed equally among pilots so we can have the same flying hours," he said.

Flight crew are "more careful" now during flights, always wearing face masks and gloves, especially during trash collection, and ensuring supply of hand disinfectant for passengers, according to the flight attendant.

"Financially, it really is difficult. Money still comes in because we still get to fly. But in our industry, if you don’t fly, no money comes in," she said.

"Seeing flights to different destinations being lessened and cancelled is tough," she said.