Airline staff among the hardest hit by outbreak

Scoot, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir aircraft parked at the gates and on the tarmac at Changi Airport on Tuesday. While some airlines have allowed crew members to do other work outside their companies, others have not.
Scoot, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir aircraft parked at the gates and on the tarmac at Changi Airport on Tuesday. While some airlines have allowed crew members to do other work outside their companies, others have not. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
As it may take a longer time for the aviation industry to recover from the coronavirus crisis, pilot Kenny Tay decided to start his own mobile car-grooming business. He also signed up with Lalamove to provide transport services. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
As it may take a longer time for the aviation industry to recover from the coronavirus crisis, pilot Kenny Tay decided to start his own mobile car-grooming business. He also signed up with Lalamove to provide transport services. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Crew forced to turn to gig and part-time work as flights are grounded, salaries slashed

Pilot Kenny Tay used to spend his time soaring above the clouds in a commercial airliner but those exciting days have given way to a more modest gig - driving a van that provides car-grooming and moving services.

Mr Tay, 39, is far from alone in finding himself on a different track: An air stewardess has turned to working as a shop assistant.

Airline crew are among the hardest hit by the virus outbreak and have been forced to turn to gig and part-time work as they see their salaries slashed by up to 70 per cent.

Accordingly, some airlines have relaxed their rules to allow cabin crew to seek part-time or temporary jobs during this period.

Mr Alan Tan, president of the Singapore Airlines Staff Union, which represents cabin crew and ground staff, told The Straits Times that at least 4,000 cabin crew members had applied for voluntary no-pay leave by this week.

"The bulk of cabin crew salaries comes from their flight allowances. Without that, many are getting a basic monthly salary of about $1,300 to $1,500," he noted.

"The union has negotiated with the company to allow crew to seek part-time work outside the company for the time being. But they would need to seek approval first."

Mr Tan added that such arrangements are not new as the crew were also allowed to do part-time work when the airline was hit by the Sars outbreak in 2003.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) said on Monday that it was cutting 96 per cent of its scheduled capacity until the end of next month and grounding 138 out of 147 SIA and SilkAir aircraft. About 10,000 staff could be affected.

Pilots could see their salaries cut by up to 50 per cent next month while SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong said he will take a 30 per cent pay cut from next Wednesday.

Scoot told The Straits Times that all its 2,400 staff have been affected and the airline is working closely with its union and NTUC to make temporary alternative work arrangements. Details are still being worked out, its spokesman said.

STAYING UPBEAT

It was nice to have a pilot job which many people look up to. Now I am washing cars. Initially, there was a bit of a struggle within me, but this business could lead somewhere and it helps to supplement my household income. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Also now I have more quality time with my children.

MR KENNY TAY, who left SilkAir in January to join a budget airline based in Singapore so he could spend more time with his family. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in airlines grounding most of their planes, as well as cabin crew and pilots.

Jetstar Asia, which has grounded its fleet for the next three weeks, has helped more than one-third of its crew members find temporary jobs for between one and six months, chief executive Barathan Pasupathi said in a statement yesterday.

They have been deployed to work as safe-distancing ambassadors for the Singapore Food Agency and SG Clean ambassadors for the National Environment Agency.

They will be based at coffee shops and hawker centres to advise patrons on safe-distancing requirements and the importance of practising good social norms and personal habits.

Some of them have also been hired by Raffles Medical Group to work as healthcare assistants at the airport.

A 27-year-old SIA flight attendant who declined to be named said that while some of his colleagues will take the opportunity to rest, he needs a part-time job to pay his rent. "I used to joke about working as a GrabFood delivery rider, now it seems like a possibility," he said.

However, not all airlines allow crew members to do other work outside their companies.

One air stewardess with a foreign airline, who has to go on compulsory unpaid leave until June, said she has been quietly moonlighting since last week.

The 29-year-old Singaporean married with a two-year-old son said her part-time shop assistant job fetches about $200 to $300 a month, money that will help cover some of her household expenses.

 
 

As for Mr Tay, his pilot career has been in limbo after he left SilkAir in January to join a budget airline last month.

One week before his induction, he was told by the airline that it would be delayed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

"Initially, I thought it would be for a couple of weeks, but when I contacted the airline, the staff said the situation was getting worse. They were slashing flights and a lot of aircraft are being grounded. I was told my induction could be delayed for a year," said Mr Tay.

"They said I can do anything I want, find a part-time job or drive Grab."

 GIN TAY
As it may take a longer time for the aviation industry to recover from the coronavirus crisis, pilot Kenny Tay decided to start his own mobile car-grooming business. He also signed up with Lalamove to provide transport services. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Mr Tay said there are five other pilots joining the airline at the same time.

"I am the only one from SilkAir. The other five are from the air force. One of them is now driving a Grab car," he added.

As it may take a longer time for the aviation industry to recover from the crisis, Mr Tay decided he would start his own mobile car-grooming business.

"I have always been interested in car grooming so I bought a 10-year-old van for $30,000 and started my business," said Mr Tay, who has named his firm Auto Xthetics.

He had also signed up with Lalamove to provide transport services.

Mr Tay, who is married with three children aged five, seven and nine, said he is grateful for support from his friends who have bought his car-grooming packages. This month, he made $700 from washing and polishing cars.

 
 

"This experience has put me in check with reality. It was nice to have a pilot job which many people look up to. Now I am washing cars," he said.

"Initially, there was a bit of a struggle within me, but this business could lead somewhere and it helps to supplement my household income. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Also now I have more quality time with my children.

"It's not all gloom and doom. I did learn some things from this experience. The sad part is that I enjoy flying and this (Covid-19) took away my opportunity to fly."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'Airline staff among the hardest hit by outbreak'. Print Edition | Subscribe