Jess Covid story: from Qatar Airways flight attendant to pilot

27-year old Jae Won Jess Shin had been working as a flight attendant at Qatar Airways for three years when she decided to make a huge career jump. Captivated by the skies, Jess resigned from the airline slightly before the global pandemic and started building her career as an airline pilot. She says it was challenging to take on the training while facing all the restrictions but she was determined and finished the course. Now, Jess impatiently waits for a chance to take the control of an aircraft yoke to her hands.

Jess started her career in the aviation industry after coming back to South Korea, her home country, from the United States, where she was working as an au pair. Inspired by her mother, who used to dream of the flight attendant career when she was Jess’ age, Jess joined Qatar Airways where she spent three years onboard a variety of the airline’s jets, including the Airbus A320, A330, A340, and A350 as well as the Boeing 777 and the Boeing 787.

 Jess Covid story: from Qatar Airways flight attendant to pilot

“The moments when I used to land in destinations and had my layovers were captivating. No matter where I was, it was so great. I never thought that I would stay in Sudan or Nigeria or even South Africa. Like I never thought that I will be able to go to visit the kind of countries before because it’s quite far from Korea and it wasn’t familiar places. I actually had one of the best layovers in Nigeria or even Sudan,” Jess smiles and says she can not even count how many countries she had visited during her flight attendant career. “But I can definitely say I’ve been to most of the continents.”

“It was kind of interesting to meet people from so many countries, the countries I never thought I would think about, like Algeria, or Morocco, or even Middle Eastern countries. A couple of my best friends are Egyptians, so, how would I know that I will have best friends from Egypt.”

Jess says she never wanted to settle someplace and do a routine job, that was why the aviation industry suited her extroverted and action-oriented personality perfectly. The former flight attendant and now the freshly-licensed pilot remembers that once in 2019 her friend, who aimed to become an aviator, asked Jess to join her to go to South Africa to check the courses. And it was the ice-breaking moment when Jess re-focused her further career goals.

 Jess Covid story: from Qatar Airways flight attendant to pilot

“I just followed my friend and when I saw the aircraft, I was like I want to do that too, I can try it. I wanted to keep my life in aviation going,” she remembers.

Soon she started the pilot training but the whole process was laden by the COVID-19 pandemic as due to restrictions, the training was significantly delayed.

“While I took my pilot course, I lived in Greece. The COVID-19 restrictions delayed my training a lot. It wasn’t easy to finish my course under these circumstances. But yet I finished it with my determination and after waiting for it for such a long time, I have received the copy of my license recently. I got my commercial pilot license, I did my ATPL [Airline Transport Pilot License- ed.] course. So, now I have a commercial pilot license for multi-engine and instrument rating, as well as for single engine.“

 Jess Covid story: from Qatar Airways flight attendant to pilot

Due to the ongoing pandemic, Jess says she faces a lack of opportunities to get a job in the airline for newly qualified pilots but she keeps her mind positive and is busy applying for vacancies. Meanwhile, she also belongs to a small academic school for the English class where she privately teaches English to Koreans of different ages.

“Whenever I see an opening in the airline, I just jump in and write my CV and send necessary documents instantly. I’m also planning to get my bachelor’s as I wish to give myself more opportunities in the future and I think it would let me grow professionally. After building my career as a pilot, I would also like to be a flight deck recruiter at some point,” Jess shares.

 Jess Covid story: from Qatar Airways flight attendant to pilot

When asked about her dream aircraft she wishes to operate, Jess says she has always loved Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets. “I think I fell in love with Boeing because that was the first aircraft I went inside the flight deck during the night flight and saw all the night sky and all the beautiful views outside the cockpit. But for now, I actually don’t mind anything.”

“I can’t wait to start my career as a pilot soon and I believe there are many people who are like me,” Jess smiles.

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