A flight attendant, who saw 9/11 transform the airline industry, shares how Covid-19 is transforming things again. Put your seat backs and tray tables to their full and upright position, and meet your neighbor, Milissa Simmons.
Everyone who lived through it remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. In Milissa’s case, she was scheduled for a flight test to earn her private pilot’s license. When planes hit the Twin Towers it was immediately apparent her test flight was cancelled, and she joined a nation gripped in disbelief and horror.
While her certification flight may have been postponed, Milissa worked as a flight attendant and experienced firsthand the dramatic changes that would take place in the days, months, and even years after the national tragedy.
In the twilight of the attack people were afraid to fly, airspace was closed, and planes were almost empty when they did start flying again. The rules for passengers and flight staff became stricter, and in many ways the entire airline experience was completely changed. It seemed like a once in a lifetime situation, until COVID-19.
In 2020, a new sense of paralysis gripped the airline industry. Once again, Milissa was attending flights with almost no one on them. After an initial period where flights were jammed with panicked people trying to get home before flights shut down, flights were empty for another 2-3 months. “It was just so surreal; it was like the twilight zone,” Milissa recalls. Usually bustling airports were empty, and barren food courts and shops meant no food was available for the few travelers that arrived. To prevent spreading the virus, on-board meals were not offered either.
“Flying is a miracle! From time to time I remind people to look out the window.”– Milissa Simmons
Even more than 9/11, COVID-19 has impacted airlines significantly and people are worried about the future. Milissa knows many valued co-workers who have been laid off during the last year, and she considers herself one of the lucky ones because she is still flying. She says many companies were not prepared for the events of this year and many people have been forced to re-evaluate their personal lives and careers.
In her many years as a flight attendant, Milissa has seen the aftermath and change produced by 9/11, but nothing compares to the stark reality of COVID in terms of impacting businesses and people related to the airline industry. Working for a small regional airline, Milissa recently returned from the tourist hub of Orlando. She also recently flew to Alaska, which was in the height of its traditional tourist season. She reports that the downturn has been very hard for people in cities like these across the nation who normally rely on tourism.
At one point in Milissa’s career, her aircraft was struck by lightning and she watched electricity visibly spiderweb through the ceiling of the plane. After contacting the pilot, she was assured that lightning flows through the fuselage and disperses. In other words, despite the spectacle of it all, they were safe and could land safely. Perhaps that is an apt analogy for the current pandemic – it is important to focus on what’s important despite the apparent danger and hardship – to keep a broad view and know that a safe landing is the most likely outcome. It is all about perspective. As Milissa says, “Flying is a miracle! From time to time I remind people to look out the window.”