Highflying lady in red grounded – dreams shattered but spirits undaunted

AirAsia laid off some 300 employees following the pandemic which grounded the global aviation industry recently. (Reuters pic)

KOTA KINABALU: The small group of cabin attendants, perfectly groomed in their glamorous red uniforms, parade through the enormous lounge heading towards their Departure Gate.

Chatting and smiling together, they are admired and envied by the throngs of budget travellers sprawled around them. They are living the dream.

But that dream came crashing down in March when nearly all flights were cancelled.

Most departure lounges are still dark and empty. Silent aircraft stand squeezed together on the tarmac wherever there is space.

Flying with AirAsia for nearly five years, Nadia Farleeza Mohd Freezailah was in the nearest place to heaven as far as she was concerned.

Compared to her previous job as a barista, the 29-year-old from Sabah’s northern Kota Marudu district, adored her position as an AirAsia flight attendant.

She hoped it would turn out to be a long career with the company.

But by June, with only minimal business the low-cost carrier was trying to avoid hemorrhaging more money.

Reports on June 4 indicated that AirAsia was about to lay off more than 300 employees. CEO Riad Asmat announced during an internal briefing that redundancies would include pilots, engineers, and cabin crew.

Nadia desperately hoped she would not be one of the unlucky ones.

The very next day, she received the dreaded email saying her services were no longer required. Three days later, she was out.

“I remember it was late afternoon when I received the e-mail. Although I was kind of prepared, I didn’t expect it to be me. Why me? That was my first thought,” she tells FMT.

“It took me three whole days to digest just that one e-mail. But after that, thanks to support from my family and friends, it finally sank in.”

Nadia was ever ready to make her passengers’ flight experience an enjoyable one, even before getting on the plane.

She understands the reasons she was let go and explains that she has no hard feelings.

“I have nothing but good memories of my time there. The Kota Kinabalu crew are not just another crew, they’re like my family.”

She fondly remembers flying with them to exciting destinations including Thailand and Indonesia.

But that is all behind her now and Nadia has accepted that what transpired was probably for the best, saying it has forced her to move out of her comfort zone and start a new chapter in her life.

The pandemic and her redundancy have affected not just her career but also her personal life.

“I was supposed to get engaged at the end of this year, but we have had to put that on hold for now.”

She now sells water purifiers. It’s not full-time but at least she’s earning.

The salary and benefits at AirAsia were better, she says, but selling water purifiers has its own perks and has already taught her at least one valuable life lesson.

“Selling is not as easy as it looks but at least the more effort you put in will equal the amount of money you earn. Pain is gain right?”

She looks enthusiastic. “My time is flexible now. I’m still exhausted by the end of the day but it’s worth it. What’s important is that you are happy.”

Would she consider taking to the skies again if that opportunity comes knocking?

“Maybe. But if there are other opportunities for me out there, I won’t go back.”

You can almost see her keeping her chin up.

“Who knows? I already have an interview lined up with an insurance company!”

But being a lady in red was never just another job.

Nadia suddenly grins defiantly.

“Whatever is in front of me now, I’ll give it my best.”

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