Rhodri Manley, the Captain on the Airbus A320 aircraft, has been working in commercial aviation for more than 20 years. The experienced pilot’s life has changed completely within the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. Now the professional aviator works in a local supermarket in the UK in order to be able to provide for his family. Despite hardships, he says the pandemic let him reveal a positive side of the global crisis.
“I did my training in 1999 and got straight into commercial flying in 2000. I had one employer for the whole time,” Rhodri remembered.
Regardless of having a university degree in chemistry and management, Rhodri had always felt enthusiastic about dynamic outdoor activities such as rock climbing and sailing. At an early age, he started working in a local shop selling climbing equipment and was looking for a career where he could combine his personal traits and skills.
“My passion in the university was rock climbing, nothing to do with flying at all. But I have always been interested in flying because my dad was a pilot. But [initially] I didn’t want just to do what my dad did. I loved climbing and I ended up working in the shop selling climbing equipment for about four years trying to think about what I wanted to do in my life.”
“I thought that flying is a really good career that would combine my skills, my personality. Since I was a very active person, I thought flying would be a good option. I managed to get into one of the airlines for a sponsored cadet program. They helped me to get into the airline and I went into working for them afterwards,” Rhodri said.
Rhodri points out that the pilot career is rewarding but complicated since every day spent in the flight deck brings different challenges and requires broad knowledge in various fields of life as well as strong physical health. However, the Captain says he misses the sense of purpose he got from being a professional pilot and notes that despite the aviator’s job often could be tough for a body clock due to night shifts and pressure changes in the cabin of a jet, it is a small price to pay if a person loves aviation.
“Every day brings you different challenges. It keeps you on your toes, it is quite challenging. You are flying with different people the whole time so you get to know people. […] Even Air Traffic Controllers – after 20 years, you recognize the voices of all these people in different countries, even if you have never met them. It’s an amazing thing.”
After losing the job at Thomas Cook, his first employer, due to its bankruptcy at the end of 2019, the Captain was fortunate to get into another airline very quickly. But a few weeks after finishing the line training with the new company, Rhodri was made redundant again. This time due to the pandemic.
“I have been flying for about a month after the line training and I was starting to see the virus coming into Europe. Flights were starting to be canceled and less than a month later we had a call saying that some people may be redundant. I was one of those. Only a few weeks after I finished my training with the airline, I was made redundant again.”
“Having spent most of the winter not earning money or earning very little money, because I have just been made redundant from my previous company [Thomas Cook] then I was made redundant again, that was pretty scary.”
The Captain says the consequences of the pandemic were very stressful for his family as even experienced aviators faced the lack of jobs in the market. Rhodri soon noticed that his family started to run out of savings and began to build a backup plan to secure financial stability.
“In a way, I’m very fortunate that as a pilot my income was not bad, so I never really had to think much about having enough money […]. When you have been made redundant for the second time in a row and you don’t know when you are going to get back into work, the first thing you think about is where are you going to live. Will I be able to stay in my house? That was the biggest concern.”
Rhodri says it became obvious that he was not going to be flying again soon. The pilot realized that if he was not returning back to the skies as soon as possible, he and his family would run out of money completely. So he applied for the job in the local supermarket to be able to provide for his family and children.
“Because neither I nor my wife had qualifications in healthcare or in education, the industries which were still working, neither of us had any strong job prospects. Meanwhile, more and more people started to buy things online and local supermarkets started looking for more staff. We both got the job in the same supermarket.”
“It is fundamental for a pilot to see problems and find solutions. We simply needed money to keep paying the bills, buying food. As we both are working in the supermarket, we can still look after our children, and we can make sure that we can keep staying in our house as long as we need to. We can not go on holiday, we can not buy a new car, we don’t buy new clothes anymore at the moment, but we don’t worry about being able to live in our house.”
The professional aviator and caring dad says that the family was always the main purpose of his life, self-realization has also been playing a significant role. While the pandemic had a painful impact on his career, the Captain says he found a positive side in the crisis.
“My wife is doing a full-time job while I am able to only take a part-time job because my hours have to fit around my wife’s hours as we need somebody to look after our children. My wife is earning twice what I am earning. [..] But I’m spending much more time with my family. Normally in the summertime, I would be very busy and I wouldn’t have spent any time with my family at all. For the last nine months, we have been able to do things that we wouldn’t have done if I were working, it has just been fantastic. We never had that before.”
The Captain outlines that no matter what kind of job a person does it must be performed with the highest possible level of professionalism.“Even now, when I’m working in the supermarket, I take the same approach as a pilot – I want to do my best, I want to be professional, I want to learn as much as I can.”