Flight attendant Romina in maternity leave limbo: “The virus had a huge impact”
Italian flight attendant, Romina Ciut, 37, began her aviation career 10 years ago when she joined a local air carrier. Before aviation, Romina worked as a translator preparing technical translations for a website. However, she became bored by the profession and began to feel lonely in an office environment. So, Romina decided to make a career change and joined a famous Rome-based air carrier as a member of its cabin crew.
Her new role completely changed her life and she decided to remain in the aviation industry for a decade.
As time passed, Romina moved between a few employers, gaining hours on Boeing 717, Airbus A320 jets, as well as the Saab 2000 twin-engined turboprop. Since November 2017, Romina has been working for the Norwegian low-cost carrier, Norwegian Air Shuttle. Still based in Rome, Romina has spent years working on long-haul operations on the Norwegian Air Shuttle ‘red nose’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
She recalls: “My life turned out to be much better since I had the job I enjoyed. Being [part of] a cabin crew is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. It's something that when you work, you never check the time. It's a big change in my career because [cabin crew] spend more time at a job than at home.
“We don't have a routine in our job, and it makes our profession different. I really enjoyed speaking with passengers and meeting different colleagues every day. And of course, we have a chance to travel a lot.”
In 2018, a year after joining her new employer, Romina fell pregnant and temporarily left the airline for maternity leave. She expected to return to the job when her maternity ended in June 2020. At the time, Romina could not even imagine that she was leaving the company for what would be both the first and last time. In early spring 2020, just before the pandemic struck globally, Romina was busy building plans and preparing for a discussion about when she would return to the skies.
Romina was ready to return to work, but, due to a sharp drop in passenger demand and strict air travel regulations to combat COVID-19, Norwegian Air Shuttle ceased all long-haul operations. Romina admits that when she noticed whole aircraft fleets were being grounded by other air carriers, she realized that the virus wasn’t going anywhere fast.
She continues: “During the first months of the pandemic, we kept the hope that we would all come back to the job. But then we understood that the pandemic was getting worse and worse, especially in the United States, which was our main target. Norwegian announced stopping long haul operations all over the world, meaning that they closed our base in Rome and we lost all hopes of a return.”
For Romina, her employment situation became extremely challenging. Soon, the Italian branch of Norwegian Air Sources Italy (NAR Italy), the subsidiary company of Norwegian Air Shuttle and the Italy-based crew employee, went into liquidation. As the company was no longer operating, staff were left without any income. The subsidiary’s liquidation is a long process and it’s expected to be ongoing. Unfortunately, this means that since the announcement of NAR Italy closing its base in Rome, all crew members were unable to qualify for state-guaranteed benefits.
Like other countries across the globe, the government of Italy offered welfare tools dedicated for people who were financially affected by the pandemic. This was available for 14 weeks after a person submits the initial application. However, employees of NAR Italy do not qualify for this assistance as they are still formerly employed. So, employees banded together to initiate discussions.
Romina explains: “We had a really difficult situation because we were not made redundant. We had to fight to get benefits and [to] take advantage of the welfare tools we had in Italy. It was really hard. Now, we are still employed by the company, but they told us they're going to fire [staff] as soon as they can. When the company is being liquidated, it’s a complicated process.
Initially, Romina was unable to secure unemployment benefits from the government.
She adds: “But together with our unions, we had insisted on meetings [with management] and finally, we got an extension, which doesn't cost anything to the company, but it keeps us with an income. We are still waiting for the NAR bankruptcy process in Italy, which hasn’t been done yet. And so, we can get everything we need.”
After long discussions, both staff and employer found a way to ensure employees were able to qualify for unemployment benefits. Further moves are also being made to liquidate the Italian branch of NAR.
Romina says: “[The company] kept short-haul operations just in Scandinavia and some in Spain, where they have lots of employees. So, for us, we have no chance to fly anymore.”
Romina admits to feeling sad about the ongoing uncertainty in the aviation market and misses her time in the skies. Additionally, Romina’s husband is also employed by the same company and so, the closure in Rome has come as a huge shock to her family, especially as the couple have a two-year-old daughter to support. While Romina is worried about her future prospects, she is also trying to remain positive during her job search.
She says: “The virus had a huge impact on my personal life. I was really happy about my life because I was doing a nice job that I loved so much with a good salary in a great company in my home city. I love my colleagues, the flights, the passengers, the traveling, everything. But now, I’m a housewife, and so it is a huge change. To [get] back on track to finding another job [during a] global pandemic is really hard.”
She adds: “Many airlines ask the cabin crew to relocate but, for me, it’s difficult since I have a family. If I had the chance to relocate, for example, to Spain, I would definitely do it. But the contract should be stable and last for a while so that I do not have to change employers because it's not possible when [you have] a small child.”
Romina, a skilled linguist who has previously studied French, Spanish and Arabic, is considering completing her English studies and getting a university degree.
The pandemic may have taken away the job she loved, but Romina’s priority is now the welfare of her family and their daughter. While waiting for the global recovery, Romina is remaining strong despite the challenges she faces and continues to build a plan for the future.
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