What it is like to work for an airline amid a pandemic


    As the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases rose each day, many brave frontliners stepped up to fight the global pandemic – from the health workers and medical professionals who were working round-the-clock in hospitals, to the grocery and retail crew ensuring goods are in stock, riders who ensured sustenance could still be delivered, and even public officials caring for their citizens.

    Along with the country’s frontliners, there is another group of unsung heroes silently fighting their battles in the airport grounds and in the skies.

    From ground personnel like cargo, passenger and ramp agents, to pilots and cabin crew members, all of whom have also heroically taken on the responsibility of serving the people and ensuring that everyone gets to return home safely to their loved ones.

    Among them are Cebu Pacific’s Airport Performance Manager Charmaine Joy Prieto and Cabin Crew members Christine Joy Madamba and Katrina Valencia.

    They fulfilled the call of their duties, without protest – to fly people when the Department of Tourism had arranged sweeper flights to rescue stranded tourists and locals, and to take part in the carrier’s limited cargo operations to ensure continuous transport of essential goods.

    Being a cabin crew member is a big risk, especially at this time when a pandemic is spreading all over the world.

    Despite this, Madamba proudly wore her Cebu Pacific uniform and welcomed passengers who were flying back home.

    Along with her teammates, she worked on two repatriation flights from Puerto Princesa to Manila – 5J646 and 5J690 – on March 26, 2020. It was her first time to experience such flights and she did not expect it to become one of the most remarkable moments in her career.

    “When our first passenger for 5J 646 boarded, I clearly remembered her saying that she couldn’t believe that they were going back to Manila. Her words struck me and I felt the weight of what we were doing for them. For many, it was an answered prayer,” Madamba said.

    Valencia, meanwhile, was among the volunteers who chose to stay in Manila despite being allowed by the airline to go back to her family in the province.

    “Volunteering to fly during difficult times is not new to me. I feel a certain sense of responsibility – a lot of people are counting on me to bring our guests home safely,” Valencia said.

    Unlike Madamba who joined a sweeper flight, Valencia manned her station in an Airbus 320 all-cargo flight. Instead of ensuring the safety of passengers on board, this time, she and five other airline members, were in-charge of securing boxes of goods and medical supplies in the cabin.

    Prieto displayed courage as she managed the on-ground activities and chaos inside the Laguindingan Airport in Cagayan de Oro.

    As an airport performance manager, she saw the spirit of bravery in the eyes of her team as they prepared to manage the passenger traffic on ground.

    “We handled 150 foreign guests for our Cagayan de Oro-Manila flight. Knowing that there were limited transportation available and a lot of checkpoints to go through, I am proud of my team for being able to be at the airport on time. I witnessed their commitment to perform their jobs and provide continuous service to the guests,” Prieto said.

    Committing to their responsibilities to serve fellow countrymen is what keeps these ladies motivated amid the crisis.

    “The call of duty is stronger despite the risk of COVID-19. We are doing our part by bringing cargo, including the PPEs needed by frontliners in the hospitals. I believe that by doing our jobs, we are helping each other combat this pandemic,” Valencia said.

    “To us, a #5JStrong team gathers its strength in knowing that there is a greater sense of responsibility in the company, and in the whole country as we go on with this battle. To those who are far from their loved ones, this is for you,” she added.

    “Our yellow uniforms have become a symbol of hope for the people: from those in the operations to the entire support group and management. We will continue to wear hope on our sleeves and faith in our hearts that we will go through this trial together,” Madamba said.

    She recalled the emotional moment when everyone was clapping as people boarded the flight.

    “It was a sight to behold. They were cheering for each other and seemed very grateful to be given a chance to go back home. Hearing them say the words, ‘thank you for rescuing us’ and ‘thank you for coming to get us’ made it all worthwhile,” Madamba said.

    “Before I became an airport performance manager (APM), I’ve been telling myself that these people on the ground are the lifeblood of the company. I will be forever thankful for Cebu Pacific for the opportunity to become Cagayan de Oro’s APM and could not have done my best without the team. I am glad to be able to witness how people became stronger,” Prieto said.

    With these strong people at the frontlines, there is a glimmer of hope that every Juan will come back stronger together, and will all fly again soon.


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