Discussions about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on those working in the aviation sector usually focus on pilots, flight attendants, aircraft maintenance staff and those people directly related to the functioning of the industry.
However, there are plenty of other professionals whose livelihoods depend on aviation, and whose lives were also severely affected by the global health crisis. One example is the aviation YouTuber and airline reviewer, Josh Cahill. Here, he tells AeroTime how COVID-19 has shaped his life and career.
Traveling became a big problem
The content creator, best known for presenting airline reviews on his YouTube channel, recalls that traveling during the pandemic became a huge headache. Cahill was intensively engaged in travel content-creating activities in Bali when the virus started to spread. Tight movement restrictions on aviation routes and flights implemented by various international governments turned his plans upside down.
The well-known vlogger admits that, at one point, he felt calm because he thought it would be a temporary break from flying. But the virus continued to run riot, with morbidity rates growing uncontrollably around the world.
“There was a lot of uncertainty,” Cahill says. “People were dying, people didn’t know what misery the virus could bring to the world. Initially, I was relaxed, I didn’t think it would last this long.”
The airline critic had a number of flights planned, including an extensive tour across Russia and Europe, where he had a lot of reviews lined up. However, countries began closing their borders one after another. Bali wasn’t far behind, soon going into lockdown. This meant that Cahill was stranded in Bali, where he spent six months living in a small villa.
“It was a good time,” the YouTuber admits. “I had my pool, I still had enough videos to work on because I just came back from a trip to New Zealand and Australia, and I was in the United Kingdom before…So, I scaled down from two videos a week to just one because God knows how long this pandemic was going to last.”
Only in July 2020, when the local government resumed airport operations, was the vlogger finally given the green light to leave the country. And so he jumped on a flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. At that point, it seemed that six months of movement restrictions would be enough to stabilize the virus spread. Of course, that wasn’t to be. The next destination Cahill chose was Turkey. He says that the image of a half-closed Istanbul Airport, usually heavily crowded in pre-pandemic days, will stick in his memory permanently.
Took more than 200 COVID-19 tests
When asked about his most memorable flight during the past 20 months, the airline reviewer says that strict social distancing rules meant that public events were canceled. This significantly shrunk his options. However, he was lucky to get a unique opportunity to attend the Airbus aircraft delivery event in Uganda.
“I remember it was Christmas last year when Uganda airlines received a new Airbus A330-800 Neo. And it was a very significant event for the airline as well as for the country. Airbus put a little event together and I was invited. It was so nice after such a long time to celebrate something again during the times of COVID…I think this was my most memorable flight during COVID.”
Cahill also reflects that the pandemic has had a noticeable effect on his flying experience in terms of passenger service as well as on processes in airports. To date, Cahill has had more than 200 COVID-19 tests in order to be able to board aircraft.
The airline critic describes air travel as a challenge and a roller-coaster during the pandemic. “Flying changed a lot…You had to wear a mask, [you were given] lunchboxes and the crew would not interact with you. The staff would get angry if you didn’t wear a mask at an airport. Everything was very strict. You needed to take COVID tests and I’ve had over 200 COVID tests by now, which is quite intense. The traveling just became a huge headache.”
He continues: “I found it very confusing how every airline would deal with it differently. Some wouldn’t serve alcohol anymore, some wouldn’t serve any hot food, while others would only serve hot food in business class and then not in economy. There was no common sense among the airlines.
“It was very interesting to see who was doing what, and with very different agendas…I think until now you can still say that traveling in the US, for example, is very different from traveling in Scandinavia, where, I heard, soon you won’t even need to wear a mask on board anymore.
“So, it was a roller-coaster, you didn’t know what to expect and I think that will continue for some time.”
Even though it was not the easiest circumstances for traveling, Cahill says that during the pandemic he managed to visit many countries across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and never became infected with the virus. Common sense and determination to strictly follow the rules were the two crucial issues for him to minimize the risks of contamination.
Does the pandemic threaten competition among airlines?
Cahill believes that travelers remain limited in their choice of destinations because airlines were forced to readjust their business strategies, and many temporarily or permanently dropped various routes in order to stay afloat while facing unprecedented losses.
“There is less choice, and less choice means less competition. It means higher ticket prices as well. For me as a reviewer, I [always look for] variety, I don’t want to fly with the same airline. And the big players, such as Turkish Airlines, KLM, Qatar, or Emirates, have a strong network again, and [they hold] a monopoly, which puts other carriers into trouble…I’m worried that due to the pandemic, we will have some airlines, which we liked very much, disappear.”
However, recovery signs mean there are reasons to be hopeful, says Cahill.
“If you trust numbers, we are back to 50% of 2019 figures. As a passenger, as a consumer, I feel like things are getting much better and countries are reopening…Airlines are hiring now again, which is a good sign. Flights are increasing, and airports are getting busy again.”
Due to the changes made by the aviation industry because of COVID-19, Cahill thinks that airlines will be ready to deal with any potential future health crises.
“We developed some sense of crisis management, which is good…I think we are much better prepared for whatever comes next. I hope there’s nothing, I don’t know, I hope it’s not a pandemic. But that’s the nature of the industry that we always need to be prepared for whatever there is to come.”
So, what did the pandemic mean for Cahill as a YouTuber?
“I think it meant a lot of changes to regular life, to the things that I’ve done before just like anyone else in the world and the aviation industry. It meant a lot more time spent on the ground, not on the plane. My views would change, the way how I review and where I can go. It was a life full of restrictions suddenly. And I think that is what I remember the most about the pandemic…I felt very restricted.
Cahill’s pandemic roller-coaster ride had some tight turns, but he says adaptability is important for both travelers and business.
“What I understood now, is what a privileged life we had, how easy it was, how fun it was. Now, since we don’t have it, we treasure it much more. And I think nobody would disagree if I said the pre-pandemic world was much better. But we have to live with the challenges.”