The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many aviation professionals to consider changing their career paths. Susan Wamaitha, a flight attendant at Gulf Air, was one of those who managed to navigate her career through the changing circumstances in the aviation market. An experienced flight attendant now runs her own grocery store in her home country and has been intensively writing an autobiography book in which readers will find her life story full of pain, struggles, victories, and lessons learned.
“I have witnessed miracles, seen the best, faced the worst, gone through pain, and felt the wounds on my skin. I have seen plants growing out of cracks. I have felt what being stepped on feels like and what emerging from behind the clouds mean,” Susan shares hints of her book.
Had the pandemic not stopped the aviation industry, she would never have had enough time to start her own business. During the five years when she was working as a flight attendant for Gulf Air, Susan barely had time even for her family. A business class flight attendant was based in Bahrain while her family was patiently waiting for her in Kenya.
“I’m married and I have a son. They both live in Kenya. [Before the pandemic] we used to meet each other every month. When both Kenya and Bahrain went under lockdowns from March until July 2020, we couldn’t meet each other. Everything was closed, we felt like prisoners. It was not easy.”
“I did my last flight to London in March. When we came back to Bahrain, we stayed for more than seven hours waiting for COVID-19 test results. I didn’t know that was my last fight, actually. The airline I was flying for didn‘t fire us immediately. My contract was valid until July 2020, so the company kept me throughout. I wasn’t flying but Gulf Air was paying us a half salary, which was okay.”
Susan clearly remembers the moment when she was made redundant. She says she had put enormous effort to get the job in the airline and after having received the upsetting news, she experienced emotional upheaval.
“I was so scared… I have a family, I have a husband, my son… I kept on praying [and thinking] what will I do next?” she remembers. “I was dreaming about my job since I was a kid and it took a long time for me to get that job. I didn’t get it immediately. I have worked in the hotel industry as a housekeeping attendant, waitress, receptionist, and telephone operator before my dream job of flight attendant. Only after a few years of trying, I finally got into Gulf Air.”
“When COVID-19 came, I tried to prepare myself psychologically, mentally for the leave. But I couldn’t, it was not the right time for me to go, it was a big shock. We used to carry more than 300 people on board the flight and suddenly we ended up carrying only 50 passengers. That was a big loss for the company. People were scared to fly because of the possibility of getting ill or locked in a foreign country.”
After leaving the airline, Susan went back to Kenya where she could finally meet her family. The flight attendant decided to pour out her emotions to arts, capturing all of the ups and downs of her life into a book. Despite having no previous experience in business management or the business itself, encouraged by her friend and seeking financial stability, Susan decided to give herself a try and established a small grocery store in her hometown.
“Life is a journey where you have to create your reality. Losing the job doesn’t mean that your life has to stop, you have to work extra hard and look for any other opportunities. I used to talk a lot with a friend of mine about how to move on to the next level. So, when I came back to Kenya, I started to look for a place for my store. I’ve never done anything similar before. Everything is new on my side. I started a mini supermarket and it’s doing very well!” Susan smiles.
“I appreciate my new job because similarly to working for the airline, I meet different people every day. I‘m also running a small poultry farm, so I could say I‘m a business-minded person now.”
Being empowered to rebuild her career and life, Susan says she has some advice for other members of the aviation family who had also gone through a life-changing experience.
“A person should never stop, should never quit, and never give up. It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you are ready to fight for another day. Explore, love, and most important, live the life to the fullest no matter how hard it is sometimes.”