Former Thomas Cook Airlines cabin manager Maria Gunning speaks about the unique comradeship between cabin crew and how she’s been humbled by the public reaction to Thomas Cook’s collapse
As the sun sets on my flying career that started with Airtours 25 years ago and ended abruptly with the collapse of Thomas Cook last week, I can’t help but feel totally bereft. It wasn’t just a job but a way of life and I feel totally devastated. There is no other career like it and the comradeship between crew is irreplaceable, especially at our small base in East Midlands. We are a family we’ve all laughed together and cried together and seen each other through the ups and downs in life.
There have been many a counselling session in the rear galley sat on our crew seats when the service to our passengers has been completed. We’ve seen each other through engagements, marriages, becoming parents, losing parents, miscarriages, empty-nest syndrome, divorce, fallouts with friends and family illnesses. The list is endless. But one thing is certain, I know that when we went to work feeling low we always returned home feeling so much more positive because of the conversations, compassion and laughter the crew shared. These were not just colleagues, but genuine friends.
As cabin crew, we had to adapt to many different scenarios on board, from an emergency landing after an engineer left a torch in the wing, to disruptive customers and heightened security issues after 9/11 and aborted landings. We are trained to be fire fighters, to deal with hi-jacking situations and comfort nervous flyers. It’s so much more than serving tea and coffee – you need tact and diplomacy by the bucket load too.
The last few days have been especially poignant as we have operated the largest peacetime repatriation flights since the Second World War for the Civil Aviation Authority to bring our stranded passengers home. To say those flights have been emotional would be an understatement. I worked on the East Midlands to Paphos flight on September 28 and the kindness, generosity, compassion and empathy of the passengers was truly overwhelming. One customer, Nita Jay from Hull, initiated a collection for the crew on board and as each passenger disembarked the aircraft it was with a hug or a kiss or a handshake wishing us all the very best for our future. It was truly humbling and so touching. The humanity shown meant everything.
All the crew remained loyal and professional to the very end, smiling with tears in our eyes as we said our last goodbyes. I’m wise enough to know that life goes on but how sad I feel to be hanging up my wings as an amazing chapter of my life comes to a close. It really has been a career that has helped me grow into the person I am today.
The wonderful flying memories are endless and I will cherish them forever. To all my fellow crew members, I love you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will miss you all.
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