The pandemic has hit U.S. air travel hard, leaving tens of thousands of flight attendants like Nicolas Valdivieso scrambling to survive.
“Most days I’m OK, but there are some days where I’m like, OK, how is this happening?” Nicholas said.
For the past four years, Nicolas has been living in Fort Lauderdale and working as a flight attendant – a job he loved.
“I thought it was the last job I’ll ever get,” Nicolas said.
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Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“I didn’t fly for March, April or May,” he said.
The 37-year-old says he started flying again in June, only to be furloughed in October.
“It’s emotional because you’ve been robbed, you’ve been unsettled,” he said.
According to recent data provided by the industry group, Airlines for America, the pandemic has resulted in a 36% drop in air service in Florida alone - from November 2019 to November 2020.
“If there is no airline, there is no passenger. If there is no passenger, we cannot work,” Sabino Jarquin told NBC 6.
Sabino says he spent 15 years working at an airport restaurant. He not only lost his job in March but was also diagnosed with COVID-19 days later.
“I got hit from my family, in my house, in my life and in my work,” he said.
Months later, he says he has mostly recovered from the virus but still faces an uncertain future when it comes to his finances.
The union representing Sabino and hundreds of other airport workers says he is not alone.
“As travel stopped, all of those jobs stopped as well,” said Wendi Walsh, Florida political director for the UniteHere! International Union. “About 98% of our members were immediately laid off.”
Lin Humphrey, assistant marketing professor at Florida International University, says a recovery for the airline industry will take time.
“It’s going to take at least a couple of years minimum to return to 2019 numbers, particularly with international air travel because that’s been hit so incredibly hard,” he said.
When asked what it means for South Florida, Humphrey said, “It means we’re going to have to weather the storm.”
It’s not just airlines. Cruise lines have been hit the hardest, with U.S. operations suspended since March.
According to Cruise Lines International Association, a trade organization representing dozens of cruise lines, as many as 290 Florida jobs are lost each day passenger operations remain suspended. But there are signs of a recovery taking shape.
“It will be a return to the seas but a new normal,” Humphrey said.
He says a new normal will include rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers and crew members, enhanced medical facilities onboard and mask and social distancing requirements.
Two industries tied to South Florida’s economy hit hard but adapting to try to survive.
“South Florida is strong,” Humphrey said. “If we get the economic stimulus to help the airlines bring back people and the cruise lines are able to jump through the hoops of the CDC – they’re still interpreting those – we will see these industries come back.”
Humphrey says don’t expect to pay less for a cruise next year. In fact, he says cruise lines are seeing many of their 2021 sailings already filling up.
Experts say airlines are focused on increasing the number of passengers on planes, so that could help keep prices low for now.