What It’s Like Being a Hawaiian Airlines Flight Attendant During a Pandemic
Even with the drastic decrease in visitors to the Islands, flights continue.
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Here’s the full version of Stagg Yamaguchi’s story in his own words, as told to Jayna Omaye. The 60-year-old flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines is from Honolulu.
I have been through 9/11, mergers and filing for bankruptcy with other airlines. I never thought that I would be going through a major downturn for a second time in my career. Sept. 11 was a tragic event and the airlines were hit very hard for several years, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. With a global pandemic, that light is but a glimmer, and not knowing when a cure or a vaccine will be available, it will surely take an even longer time for the industry to recover.
When I saw the news unfolding about an epidemic it hit me that this virus would not be going away anytime soon. Technology is a blessing and a curse at the same time. With worldwide travel, I could see how easily a virus could spread.
It has been an adjustment as I’m sure it has for anyone in the airline industry and the world in general. Very little remains the same as it was a little over a month ago. Mainland flights are 90% empty with guests staying put in their assigned seats. Now, it is the norm to see people pulling out their cleaning supplies, wiping down tray tables, seat belts, seat cushions and just about anything else that’s a high-touch surface. Most people on the aircraft wear face coverings, and I’ve seen a handful of people donning full hazmat suits!
I think for flight attendants at Hawaiian, it has been a more challenging time, as our culture is to openly embrace familiar faces with a hug and/or a kiss on the cheek. Now, our guests are greeted with a hello with face masks and gloves, and sanitizing wipes. Beverage and food offerings are minimal with no refilling of personal flasks or alcohol for purchase in the main cabin due to the credit card transaction via an iPad. During our downtime, co-workers would sit in the galleys and share stories and catch up on what we’ve been doing. Now, we are at opposite sides of the aircraft.
I am working about half of what I was prior to COVID-19. Our regular schedules provided about 12 to 13 days off a month, and I would take my schedule down to six days off. I can honestly say that I spent more time away from home than sleeping in my own bed. This, of course, was by my own choice. Now with so many taking voluntary furloughs and the reduction of flight schedules, many of my colleagues are on a reserve schedule with minimal hours, including myself.
For the month of April, I have primarily been flying between Honolulu and San Francisco. The destinations have definitely been limited as Hawaiian is only flying a limited reduced interisland schedule and a daily flight between Honolulu and L.A. or San Francisco.
I think the trips that I miss the most are to New York City and Boston. I always looked forward to spending time on the East Coast, and I suspect that it will be quite some time before I’m able to work those flights again. Internationally, Sydney, Australia, and Incheon, South Korea, have been sorely missed as well.
As with any world event, there’s good and bad. Having more time at home has allowed me to do the things that I’ve been putting off for years. I have been actively purging things from my home, doing yardwork and organizing things that I’ve been meaning to do for a very long time. I finally unpacked boxes from my move back to Hawai‘i from Texas that have been sitting in storage for the past 10 years! I’m hopeful that sometime in the not-too-distant future we all can get back to our comfort zones and that new normal.