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Adapting and overcoming a job loss

written by Staff reporter | September 16, 2020

Andres Czajkowski is a Boeing 737 pilot most recently employed by Virgin Australia at its New Zealand unit, which was closed in April as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Here, he talks through how he tackled the stages of grief redundancy caused. 

I’m sitting in a room full of people from different walks of life, all about to start a CPR and first aid course. I figure it’ll add something to the CV after flying aeroplanes for the past 12 years.

The facilitator starts moving around the room asking us to describe what we do and why are we here. I start feeling some mild to moderate dread, getting uncomfortable and shifting in my chair as the facilitator gets closer.

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I decide to throw caution to the wind and tell it like it is: “My name’s Andy,” I say. “I’m here to add a skill to my CV and, in my former life, I was a pilot for Virgin Australia.”

As I say those words, there’s a big sigh and the room becomes very quiet for what feels like 10 minutes. I know the whole room is thinking “poor guy!” Just six months ago, it would have been, “What a cool job!”

Pre-COVID-19, most of us could relate to the old joke about pilots: ‘How can you tell if there’s a pilot in the room? They’ll tell you.’

Nowadays, not so much.

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Personally, I didn’t think that my identity was tightly defined by my profession; turns out I was wrong.

For me, the phrase “I’m a pilot” says so much more than describing what I did to earn a living; it expresses pride, professionalism, a strong work ethic, ambition and passion. It summed me up as a person.

To have that job, which I loved, suddenly removed – in the space of a week – left me shaken and unsure.

Whether we recognise it or not, after a traumatic event in life, people usually go through what psychologists call the five stages of grief. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, after I lost my job I experienced them first hand. They didn’t follow any pattern but intertwined and overlapped.

Denial: In my case, I would tell myself that this couldn’t be happening and that it was a dream from which I would soon wake up . Anger: There was no physical expression – the cupboard doors in my house remain un-punched – but I felt a deep hurt within my soul.

I would get angry at the world, at COVID, at the airline’s chief executive and even my wife for not understanding the gravity of the situation. This, of course, is a victim mentality and doesn’t help anyone.

Bargaining: The phrase “if only” is an attempt to bargain. To wish: if only I had applied for that job two months earlier, if only I hadn’t accepted this job three years ago…

Depression: This is an elephant in the room for most people, let alone pilots. We don’t like showing weakness; it’s taboo. But if we don’t talk about it now, then when will we?

I started feeling quite down at one point and couldn’t shake the sadness. In the end, I made the decision to see a counsellor. I had no idea what to expect – I never thought I’d need one before, but I was going down a dark path and needed to do something about it now, not later.

To be honest, it was the most liberating experience I’ve had in a long time, it was like the weight of the world came off my shoulders. The main point that the counsellor drove home – the main burden I was carrying – was that it wasn’t my fault; there was no decision I could have taken that could have spared myself and my family from this black swan event.

Acceptance: this is the final stage of the process and the most challenging. I still struggle with it, at times reverting to bargaining or denial. It is the hardest part of the journey because you have to accept complete responsibility for your life and move forward.

My Christian faith has certainly helped, but I am still a work in progress. Ultimately, I need to ask the question: what would I do if I could never fly again? You could argue that it is a pessimistic question, but I think it’s just realistic and necessary. I need to work out what else I could do – ideally something I am as passionate about as flying an aeroplane.

Whatever that looks like, and it will be different for all of us, we either move forward or stagnate. We must adapt and overcome – there is no other way. We can stay still or accept responsibility for where we are and do something about it.

I don’t pretend this is easy – it is ridiculously hard, in fact – but this will eventually pass and many of us will return to the sky.

Others will have started successful businesses or moved into other careers. Some, with more time at home, will have improved their relationships. There is a silver lining to every situation.

Remember that we have a choice to make: stagnate or move forward. We can adapt and overcome.

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13 Comments

  • Gerard

    says:

    Your openness is commendable and will hopefully help others in your position to seek support. I managed to exit another airline via early retirement, so I have a little insight into your situation.

  • Deirdre

    says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. So beautifully written and so true it speaks to me. I’m a proud VA staff member but have had to make the extremely difficult decision to choose a new career path. Wishing you the very best Andy for you and your family. 💕💕💕

  • Paul Turner

    says:

    I’m sorry in many ways to read your story, but it is great to see a fellow pilot talk about real issues and also to see a familiar face. Hope you are keeping well.

  • Ray

    says:

    I can fully empathise with you buddy. Some time ago (circa 2005) I decided I could no longer wander the world chasing aircraft on behalf of their owners. I had two small children and home beckoned. Unfortunately my role demanded lengthy periods away from home particularly on end of lease recoveries. 2–5 there was a global downturn and work was kind of scarce. But after months of no income, I was forced to front centrelink for the very first time in my life. I sat thru a similar session to you, but was surrounded by high school dropouts whose ambitions ranged from becoming nail beauticians to head check out chick at coles. I wanted to shrink into a corner and not seak. I didn;t belong, didn’t fit into the same mould as these people. It wasnt professional bias, but how do you explain recovery procedures on multi million dollar aircraft to people whose life revolved around “clean up in aisle 4”. I am not demeaning their occupations (well I guess in a way I am) but sitting through that, being told how to write a resume, how to deal with an interview etc when I was mid 40’s and used to dealing with airline CEO’s and Upper Management discussing million dollar assets. It was like being hit with a sledge hammer, the shock and reality of not staying where my occupation led me, but without ny recognition or identification as being from a “professional occupation”. I freely admit I got home sat by myself for hours and tears came. I felt somewhat humiliated, and reminded of just how fragile the success to failure line is. I swore never ever again would I partake of government services that are ill equipped to deal with people in highly skilled or specialist professions. I hope things restart for you buddy, I sincerely do.

  • David F.

    says:

    Hang in there Andre. I was part of the Ansett closure (19 years back) and know the emptiness of your feelings. My advice is to keep smelling the roses and the coffee, be positive, think there are many worse off than you and keep your health good. It is not easy but hang in there buddy. You will survive. Cheers.

  • A friend

    says:

    Very brave of you to share your story. I am the father of a young FO on turbos who is still employed but still anxious as you never know what the airline will do if things tighten further and nobody has a crystal ball for Covid. You are seen as a cost not a person by execs on fat salaries. Horrible but true in many other businesses too. I am not a pilot but have been made redundant more than once. It is bloody hard at the time but you and others can come thru this. DO NOT give in to depression buddy. You have a beautiful family to live for and much more. I turned the corner and am very happy with my work now. You will survive this and hopefully fly high again.

  • Kim

    says:

    Thanks Andre. I was one of 5,000 Westpac staff retrenched in 1994 after 33 year’s service. The last 4 years worked 60+ hrs/week and saved my employer around $500k managing out dud loans. Felt stripped (or boned!), but Westpac arranged for Psychological counseling, help with job hunting from PWC and a reasonable payout. Was told retrenchment is #3 on the list of life’s worst events -death, marriage breakdown and the job loss. Little comfort from brothers in law as they were Public Servants who elected to exit their jobs, but my wife was very supportive, along with her parents. In the end I went back to Westpac after 7 month break, moving at our own expense from Adelaide to Sydney and bought real estate. Job was a lower classification, but pay came in each fortnight and obtained for me by a contact who thought my hard work in Adelaide should be recognised. Loved Sydney, wife was happy and our 2 grown children were in Sydney so there was a reward -happiness and family together (at weekends). The psychologist was the greatest help in getting me to realize that I was not to blame, and the PWC partner was so supportive during our 5 months of meetings.
    So I feel for you Andre, and hope that some good comes out of your retrenchment. With Covid-19 it is doubly (or even more) difficult.

  • Thanks for the comments and encouragement, I’m glad to hear that some can relate to my story. I wrote it as an encouragement piece, I didn’t go down the path of depression because thankfully I caught the feelings early and that’s what I am encouraging friends and colleges to do, go talk to someone early, someone objective who can give you some good advice and insight. Things will get better, we just adapt to our situation now and we can overcome whatever we are going through! – Andy

  • Thank you for the encouragement and comments, thank goodness I never fell into depression because I caught it early and that’s what I want to encourage those in a similar situation to do, to talk to someone objectively and get some quality perspective.

    We are pilots and cabin crew because we persevere and adapt and that’s the main message, we can adapt and overcome whatever life throws at us! Things will turn around and we will get back in the air! – Andy Czajkowski

  • Brad F

    says:

    Hi Andres. I appreciate your courage & willingness to come forward with a story that more than just echoes what many pilots are feeling right now. As I read the article, the first thing I thought was, “this is me – in every way imaginable”. More specifically: 27 years in aviation, including 13 years at Virgin (3 yrs on the B737 & 10 on the A330). The moment they announced the airline had gone into administration back in April, I knew I’d already flown my last flight. It just took until the start of this month for them to finally tell me. I’m 52 years old: too young to retire & too old to start over again. Whilst I’m already pursuing other opportunities in an area that I’m (almost) as passionate about as flying, I doubt I’ll ever achieve the same degree of success as I did in aviation – & I certainly don’t expect to ever fly again in any professional capacity. Well intentioned friends will say things like, “oh that’s bad luck, but surely you’ll find another airline job at some point”. No, I won’t – not when every airline in the world is now dealing with a pilot surplus, not to mention their own fight for survival in a Covid environment. I spent many years telling myself & friends that being a pilot is just something we do, not who we are – & that we’re more than just the uniform. Whilst I know that’s true, I also know that we wouldn’t have put up with all the effort of training, followed by years of crappy, low-paying GA jobs & other hardships along the way if we weren’t so emotionally invested in what we do. I can deal with a loss of employment. Coming to terms with the loss of something I loved will require a bit more effort. Best of luck to us all…

  • Mem

    says:

    Thank you for sharing your story “beautiful person” I feel you and I am the same. I understand the passion inside and your hidden wings want to flap forever. Hopefully you will fly again soon. Never loose hope.

  • Alan

    says:

    Some older pilots may remember, a long time ago, there was an ill-managed domestic pilots strike and hundreds of pilots found themselves unemployed (in their chosen profession).
    I recall the experience of one: he became a River-cat skipper in Brisbane. By all accounts, it was a rewarding job, perhaps not as well remunerated, but one that he had no intention of leaving to return to flying.
    Just an example of how there is a whole other world out there which is currently obscured by your feelings of loss.
    Good luck for the future.

  • Kim Knight

    says:

    Andres, it is so good that you have shared your story – it has generated so much empathy and good will. Thanks for your courage dear brother.

  • Anthony Fagan

    says:

    This really hits home. I was with my airline for 11 years and just on the verge of going for my command when COVID decided to show its ugly head. Luckily for me, I am also passionate about health and fitness, and so three years ago I earned my personal trainer certification and this is what I’ve had to fall back on. I miss flying dearly, but I’ve gained so much more from spending quality time with my family now. It’s amazing how flight crew, as my wife was an FA herself, miss out on so much that we don’t even realise. So like you said, there’s a silver line in every set back. Cheers mate.

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