By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Since the time she was 19 years old, Carol Dobyns Fair has spent a good deal of time with her head in the clouds, but COVID-19 has changed all that.
As documented in a story written for the News & Neighbor by Lynn Richardson (link here) back in 2018, Fair is the most senior member of the original Piedmont Airlines flight attendants still flying. She is approaching her 60th year in the aviation industry and now works as a Purser for American Airlines.
This past April, however, Fair took a voluntary leave to help younger folks who were in danger of losing their jobs as the pandemic took a significant financial toll on the airline industry.
“They were going to lay off a bunch of people, and I figured if a lot of us senior people take a leave, that would help the junior people to keep a job, the ones that had mortgages and families,” Fair said last week seated in her Johnson City home.
When those six months ended, the continued loss of revenue due to the pandemic put more jobs in jeopardy, so Fair extended her leave 18 months until May of 2022. With vaccines starting to roll out, she expects things to be nearly back to normal by the time her current leave comes to an end.
In the meantime, she’s in the unusual position of having both feet firmly planted on the ground. This is easily the longest stretch in her adult life that she hasn’t been on a plane, but Fair is passing the time by cleaning out closets and drawers and donating items to charity.
She’s also pondering an unprecedented scenario for the aviation industry. Fair lived through the disruption caused by 9-11. In fact, she was on her way back from London on that fateful day in 2001 when her flight was forced to land in Nova Scotia for an extended, unplanned layover.
While 9-11 did short-term financial damage to the industry, the current pandemic is having a long-lasting effect on the airline business. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and development, which is headquartered in Paris, passenger transport was down 90 percent year-to-year during the month of April, and in August, it was still down 75 percent compared to the same period last year.
Fair was flying as a stewardess during the Hong Kong flu pandemic in 1968 and does not recall it causing much of a disruption. But just over 50 years later, with international travel restrictions and more stringent lockdowns across the United States, it’s a different story.
Despite the extended nature of this economic downturn, Fair is very optimistic about the future of travel, and she’s intent on being back on duty when her leave ends in 2022.
“I think once the vaccine is out and the countries are safe to have people in, I think tourism will perk up and people will be going back to see Rome and the Eifel Tower in Paris,” Fair said. “It’s just human nature that they want to travel.
“I’m ready to go back,” she added. “I’ve got another year and a half before I go back to Europe.”