Photos Amy Ashworth
For Amy Ashworth, her longtime dream had been to see the world by crisscrossing the skies. Little did she know when she began working as a flight attendant in March of 2019, that within the next year she would be working during a global pandemic.
Now as the industry has adjusted to adapt to transporting passengers in the midst of COVID-19, Ashworth’s role has also been altered. “Within the past few months, my flights have had between 1-10 people and most people are flying because of family emergencies, so there’s a very heavy nature to it,” she says. “And if the flights are full it’s usually doctors or nurses being transported somewhere.”
As is the case with many industries facing layoffs and furloughs, airlines are not immune from the need to cover the same ground with fewer employees. This often requires an all hands on deck approach in order to serve their passengers. “Each department is forming small teams to work together to help with other operations as well,” Ashworth explains. “Right now, I am still working as a flight attendant, but I’m also helping to cater flights, so everyone is pitching in.”
For employees and passengers alike, new safety and cleanliness protocols will require a great deal of patience and understanding to achieve. “Even a few months ago the priority for airlines and passengers alike was to get to the destination as quickly as possible, but now the mindset is more ‘yes, we want to get there but also we care about being clean and respecting each other and so if we have to slow down this process, we’ll do whatever we have to do to take care of one another,’” Ashworth says.
“Always check the seat back pocket in front of you (I might have left a note there).”
One of the most prominent changes that has been made in regard to COVID-19 is an increased attention to the plane’s cleanliness, Ashworth notes. “Everything is cleaner, everyone is wearing masks, and generally more kind,” she says. “Airports may be emptier but there’s much more human interaction.”
When imagining what a new normal will look like for the airline industry, Ashworth believes that the attention to cleanliness will remain a permanent focus. “I think the biggest change for airlines is that within normal operation the emphasis is on safety and while that is always a priority, because of this virus, cleanliness is just as important of a priority. I could see the same cleaning procedures that are happening right now becoming staple procedures,” Ashworth notes. “Every plane that comes in right now is getting fogged- it’s kind of awesome because there is a team that comes on the plane with what looks like a tiny leaf blower and they spray absolutely everything with cleaning and disinfecting solution- it’s cool, it almost looks like something out of Star Wars,” she laughs.
While many who have experienced the isolation of quarantine can relate to feelings of loneliness, what may be surprising is the potential for loneliness while working in the airline industry. “By nature, working as a flight attendant is a really isolating job if you don’t fight for community,” Ashworth explains. “I never work with the same crew so every flight that I work, I’m meeting new people.”
Not only could Ashworth be working with an entirely new crew on each flight, but on a busy workday with multiple trips, flight attendants could be interacting with up to 900 people, each with their own experiences, needs, and struggles. For this reason, she began using comment cards available on her planes to leave artistic and encouraging notes for her passengers. She will hand draw beautiful scenes of the flight’s destination, funny jokes or words of affirmation, and stash them in seat pockets for upcoming passengers to find.
While Ashworth has been creating these notes for close to a year, at the onset of the pandemic she decided to shift the recipients of her cards to the people working alongside her. “What I’ve realized over the past few months is that while I want to leave notes for passengers, I actually think that other flight attendants could use that encouragement too because I know that for me, it gets to the point where I’ll feel like ‘I could really use a pep talk,’” she explains. “I want to take care of the people that I work with because I know that if I take care of them, then they’ll take care of our passengers”
For those working in the airline industry during this tumultuous time, Ashworth’s hope is that her art would serve to bring her coworkers a moment of hope, to encourage them to continue on. Her art can be found on Instagram @aflyingartist