“It was devastating for both of us. The entire household income was wiped out overnight,” says Adrian Leary, former Thomas Cook cabin crew.
Both Adrian and his accomplice Paul Jones labored as air stewards when the vacation enterprise collapsed final September, taking greater than 9,000 UK jobs with it.
“Paul had only flown for four years, I’d flown for almost 25. I absolutely loved it. I never had any intention of doing anything else. I would have done it till the day I died,” explains Adrian, stuffed with ardour as he reminisces concerning the jobs they misplaced.
The couple realised they would not get again into aviation when the pandemic took maintain in March as airways instantly minimize flights and shortly after, jobs. After searching for different work, their native job centre in St Helens advised them they certified for an enterprise initiative, in order that they started planning one thing new.
On the platform of their native prepare station in Frodsham, Cheshire, Adrian and Paul noticed an empty constructing and a chance.
“We negotiated with the landlord for a rent-free period because of lockdown. Then as lockdown eased we opened. We’re a brand new business combining a coffee shop and interiors and gifts,” says Adrian, though their café nonetheless hasn’t totally opened due to the persevering with modifications in steerage for hospitality because of the pandemic.
“For a pair of old duffers, we had no idea on social media. We had to learn Instagram and Facebook,” says Paul, “but it’s been absolutely amazing, we’ve had such a good reception.”
He tells me final Saturday they had been completely packed, and so they could not consider it.
This week marked a 12 months since Thomas Cook collapsed, so the pair determined to launch a particular initiative to get their former crew again collectively: come by wearing your outdated uniform and you will get a free tea or espresso.
Today, Cathy Kirk Jardine, Betty Knight and Sandra Hutson have popped in.
“The last year has been dreadful,” says Cathy, who was with Thomas Cook for 25 years. A 12 months on she nonetheless is not working.
“It’s been really hard. I don’t think employers actually realise what a talent pool crew are. We were firemen, policemen, councillors, diplomats, medical staff – if something went wrong up there, there was no 999 to call.
“It’s onerous to get again into aviation due to Covid. It’s an enormous market now as a result of so many others have been made redundant,” she says.
Since the pandemic began, more than 30,000 jobs have been made redundant at UK airlines, according to the industry body Airlines UK. Added to that are cuts that have been made by airports, baggage handlers and third parties that rely on flights and the ecosystem around airports.
Sandra loved her job. “Fabulous, every thing you possibly can dream of” is how she describes it. She worked for Thomas Cook for 23 years, and says she felt “bereaved” when the company collapsed.
“I used to be very lucky, I bought a job with Jet2 on the bottom,” she says, standing neatly in her Thomas Cook uniform, looking like she’s about to depart for a long-haul destination, her hair in a perfect bun.
“I used to be there for seven weeks after which the coronavirus hit. I’ve been furloughed since. I do not know but what’s taking place and if I’ll return.”
Matt McKay was a senior first officer at Thomas Cook for three years. We first met last year, days after the business collapsed.
“I assumed I’d be there until I retired,” he tells me. “I used to be aiming to purchase a home, quiet down and be living right here near my household.” His partner was expecting a baby a few months after Thomas Cook went under.
Matt had interviews with a number of airlines and then got a job with Aegean, based in Athens, which he says wasn’t ideal but the family would “make it work”.
Soon after starting, the pandemic hit. “I used to be there for 3 days earlier than they despatched us home. I used to be placed on go away till the tip of March after which made redundant.”
Matt isn’t alone in people who suffered this double whammy of redundancy in aviation. I’ve been contacted by lots of former Thomas Cook staff who took jobs with some of the UK’s big airlines, including Jet2, BA and Tui. In some instances, staff completed training courses, only to be made redundant before making a flight. Others did just a handful and were then let go.
Matt says it has led to a period of self-reflection and realisation. “I do not suppose I’ll be flying once more till at the least summer time 2022.”
In the meantime, he’s starting his own business piloting drones for agriculture until the sector improves.
The collapse of Thomas Cook was at the forefront of what has been a devastating year for aviation. And as Covid-related job losses mount, airlines like BA have said they don’t expect demand to return to levels seen before the pandemic for two to three years.
It means that former crew, who say they have “aviation in our blood”, might need to attend a bit longer earlier than they will return to the skies.