Mental Health, ceilings and the airline industry

Personal reflections of a flight attendant

Losing your dream job in the airline industry affects each employee’s mental health differently. Simon Marton is sharing his personal story and experiences of his mental health during and after his airline industry career.

We’re being inundated by that expression; “mental health this, mental health that”, that I’m sure many of us are feeling desensitized. I want to offer up a slant on this and explain from my perspective what many are almost certainly going through currently.

Airline industry mental health – My story

I left the airline industry 8 years ago this month, as a cabin crew manager for the national carrier of the UK.

My fleet was a strange set-up, which was implemented as a direct cost-cutting measure for the airline, under the guise of increased customer service.

What I noticed while I was there at LHR, was the sheer amount of cabin crew members in particular, who had been with the company for around a quarter of a century.

25 years is a long time to stay with any employer, so my hunch was that it was a combination of very good allowances, a resistance to rocking the boat when you’re onto a great thing, and perhaps anxiety about change.

My circumstances were very different. I didn’t especially want to fly again but the job came up like a lifeboat and I jumped in, albeit with inferior terms and conditions in my contract.

Friction at home

The job caused friction and unhappiness at home, so much so, that I began to question my worth, my existence, and the need for me to be on this earth. This tension made me feel like I was caught between two worlds; home and work which was 100 miles away and a two-hour car trip.

I didn’t feel particularly valued at work, but I just did the best I could to navigate an uncertain course until it was time to bail out of that job when I could no longer justify it.

Leap of faith – life after my airline job

My own journey since then has been haphazard and unpredictable, yet it has been filled with jumps, risks and faith that the leaps would pay off. Yes, there have been a few stumbles, but I have taken new ground in many ways and that makes me come alive!

The pressure is always on when you have children. You have to provide, look out for them, guide, argue, forgive and maintain a happy home where they are loved and know that they are loved.

Mental health: my experiences in housing

So, you may be asking yourself, “what makes this guy think he knows anything about mental health?”

OK, I’m not an academic expert, but I do have some experience of working with clients who had high anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, heard sinister voices, issues of self-worth and so on….

This was while I worked in the social housing sector as an advocate/ support worker, and via mediation work I did for several years in a large city in the west of England. I found that the mainly male clients I had, who suffered from their poor mental health, relied upon a routine to maintain some sort of stability, and they told me how helpful check-up (wellbeing) phone calls were to their sense of regularity.

Having someone who could organize them or take the reins if things became too tough was especially important. A person in a support role was like a guardian, a trusted other and even a mentor through the dark times.

I was an advocate to ex-prisoners, ex-junkies, ex-retail professionals who had been beaten down by bullies, banks and even their families, alcoholics, the isolated and the vulnerable. I worked heavily alongside other agencies, the medical profession, mental health teams, police and often made representations to governmental departments using my legal training.

Savings and survival

Coronavirus pandemic’s devastion of airline employment

In the past few months, we have seen airlines go under, restructure, threaten and buckle. There’s no need for me to perform an analysis here; everyone knows what’s going on. Savings and survival are KPIs (Key Point Indicators). Cabin crew/ flight attendants and pilots meanwhile, seem outwardly to have it all together.

Public perception of airline crews

They are in positions where public perception sees these roles as calm, collected, glamorous, in-control and ready to handle adversity.

If you see how readily these front-liners and front-enders are dropped or pruned by their employers, then you’ll see a clear strategy.

A long-term slump in demand means people have to be let go.

It happens in so many other industries. Statistically, it is fairly well-known that employees in ‘the regular world’ often leave jobs every two to three years.

Going back to my point about some cabin crew being on such great allowances with up to 25 years in service- sometimes more- that the thought of leaving was never entertained as possible.

When a sledgehammer hits you

Suddenly, just like a jumbo entering a jetstream, the unforeseen occurred and the choice to remain was not given to so many.

This is where the anxiety, the uncertainty, the depression and the darkest thoughts will enter as quickly as you turn off a lightbulb.

Pilots and engineers too, have been culled, had their salaries reduced, or been forced to take early retirement. The uncertainty is now certain. Everyone realizes that it’s either sink or swim. Ditching is imminent.

We can suffer when the pressure becomes too much. The analgesics we use could be wine, weed or worry. None of them work. They don’t solve, but they keep us delaying facing ourselves and the potential solutions.

Sure, there will be a legitimate mourning period, but the sense of urgency to find alternative employment is always there.

Better days will come; they always do…

The solutions as I see them are easy to state on paper, but perhaps harder to implement. I have done some pretty menial jobs between airlines and after, but they have all been a means to an end.

Toilet factory-worker, cleaner, removals-man, catering assistant, delivery driver, washing-up; I did whatever was necessary and it was character-building. (You only have to look at LinkedIn to see how many airline professionals deliver groceries for supermarkets.)

It meant that I could pay bills, do an honest day’s work and hold my head up high that better days would come.

They did, and they have.

Don’t put ceilings over your head

To my airline brothers and sisters, in these times of change, you may find yourself doubting your own capabilities, but you might want to consider diversifying for a short while.

Solutions to mental health issues in the airline industry

  • I am a firm believer too in re-training.
  • I didn’t end up practicing as a lawyer, but I found a different pathway when that one looked set not to work out.
  • I almost succeeded in entering the world of national security while I was applying for legal training contracts.
  • I wrote a book on the airline industry and now contribute to magazines and websites.
  • I am learning not to put a ceiling over my head.

I’m also acutely aware of how things can change. What separates us from success?

Just pushing through that little bit more every time. You’ve done it just to get into your field. Look out for opportunities that aren’t immediately obvious. They might be under the next stone you turn over.

Featured Image: Unsplash.

Simon Marton author
Simon J Marton

Simon J Marton lives in the rolling hills above Bath, Somerset, England with his family and various animals. He used to work in the airline industry for 5 UK airlines and now does something completely different, having stumbled on law, housing and drum-teaching on the way. He has a passion for encouraging and forging new paths, believing that life should be an adventure. Writing is just a part of that journey, and he has a special interest in male-identity and mental health. Marton is also the author of the popular book Journey of a Reluctant Air Steward.

Are you an airline industry employee going through mental health issues as a result of your airline’s mass layoffs and cutbacks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? You can use the form here to contact the author.

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