Pilot writes emotional letter, sharing what it's like working at SAA

2019-11-25 15:33
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Passenger airplane landing at dusk

(Photo: iStock)

If you've ever flown with South African Airways under normal circumstances, it will be hard to argue that as a passenger it really is a great airline to travel with. 

There's a distinct level of polished professionalism amongst its cabin crew, with lekker homegrown accents and manners, while the new planes brought into service with modern configurations and seating for better legroom, all add to in-flight experience. 

But it's the other aspects of running the national carrier that sees it all falling flat.

Former SAA chair Dudu Myeni is back in court as the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) and SAA Pilots Association want her "declared a delinquent director, based on her leadership during December 2012 and October 2017". Fin24 reports if the court rules in favour of the application, she will no longer able to act as a company director.  

The national carrier is headed into the summer season, worse off than ever before, following a week-long strike that cost it as much as R50m a day. The strike ended on Friday, 22 November. SAA has already informed staff it would not be able to pay their salaries as scheduled for the month of November, as restructuring will see some 944 jobs cut as a measure to sort out its poor finances. 

During the week of industrial action, there were murmurs of the pilots joining in on the strike, but they never did.  

READ: 'My last flight with them was R50bn ago' - South Africans react to SAA strike

"The hardest challenge I’ve faced in my career was this last week of uncertainty," says Gari Coussins, who calls himself "just an airbus driver" in his Facebook profile.

"Uncertainty of leaving our wonderful South Africa to fly in another country and with the burden of tax on foreign earnings hanging over our heads, immigrating and never coming back."  

Gari started his aviation career more than 30 years ago, having joined SAA in 2001. In an emotional letter, posted to popular aviation group FlyAfrica on Facebook, he describes how he grappled with what would happen if the airline closed down, of how looking for a new job would lead him to selling his home, "our lives uprooted, interviews, new countries, bottom of seniority lists". 

But ultimately he concedes, "SAA might be broken but it can be fixed". 

Gari offers some strong advice - urging South Africans to fly with the airline saying, "It has a 75% plus load factor and with the right metal and MANAGEMENT can be turned around and not a burden to all of you. Trim down Emirates doing 7-8 flights per day and BA killing us on JHB-LHR and CPT- LHR. Purchasing those tickets does not boost SA economy but foreign economies."

Read his full letter below

Working at SAA
I've given my life to Aviation and I’m not unique.
I've jumped out of an avocado tree with a checkers bag on my back in pursuit of flight and I’m not unique.
I've stood at the fence of many airfields to watch men and woman snap the bonds of earth and I’m not unique.
I share a bond with many great people that have a passion for flying and I’m not unique.
I've done some crazy things and maybe a few really stupid things and here I guess I’m not unique.
I've faced some challenges in my 31-year career and there I guess I'm not unique.
But the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my career was this last week of uncertainty.
Uncertainty of leaving our wonderful South Africa to fly in another country and with the burden of tax on foreign earnings hanging over our heads, immigrating and never coming back.
Now here I’m not alone.
We are 552 pilots at SAA with another 50 or so on contract.
That's all of us gone (for those who get work out there)
Our homes have to be sold our lives uprooted, interviews, new countries, bottom of seniority lists etc etc ...
Easy to talk about and do when you watching from a distance.
And we are just 10% of the staff.
So when I flew last night in severe weather to Durbs and Cape Town, I had an emotional moment in that flight deck.
The privilege of having a job, the privilege of telling my family we may not have to move, the privilege of flying with Men and woman I have known for more than a decade. To quote a friend “The fire bell is silenced, but the fire is still burning”
If I have to give every bit of energy into turning the airline around then I will do that...
So yes SAA is broken BUT it can be fixed.
It has a 75% plus load factor and with the right metal and MANAGEMENT can be turned around and not a burden to all of you.
Trim down Emirates doing 7-8 flights per day and BA killing us on Jnb-lhr and Cpt - lhr. Purchasing those tickets does not boost SA economy but foreign economies.
We also pay tax and feel the pinch under corruption and looting ... I'm sticking around to make it work ...”STRENGTH IN UNITY”. 
 

The response to his letter that has been shared more than 260 times across Social Media, has been divided. 

FlyAfrica group member Malcolm Jennings agreed with Gari, saying he could not have put it any better. 

"I gave 44 years to SAA and have seen and had good and not so good times but I am proud to say I was part of a large contingent that made up the bulk of SAA staff.

Pilots, cabin crew, technical and many more. I have retired in May 2019 and never regret ever working for such a great airline. We will take SAA back to its former glory. Well done to all that want to make and be the difference." 

Similarly Rob Purkiss says, "There are many, many of us who are behind you and want to see this historical airline get back to its former glory. Make that cabin service an experience to remember."

However, others were not as easily convinced Gari sticking it out at the carrier was the right thing to do.

Mark Berry says, "That all sounds nice, but the real test of sticking around is when your pensions are taken and a 40% reduction in your salary will be required to making it work. That's what happens in the real world."

Bernie Robertson things Gari's dedication is misplaced. "I respect your perseverance and dedication, but that dedication will mean anything when the airline fails and you have a family to support. Cut your losses and move to where your talents, experience and qualifications mean something."

*Compiled by Selene Brophy

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