In the first of our ‘Postcards from the Edge’ series, Siobhain Landy, an Aer Lingus cabin crew member at Shannon and co-owner of Sweet N Green cafe in Ennis, describes how the pandemic brought her world to a standstill but has also given her time to reflect and make new plans. She wonders if the coronavirus spells the end of over-tourism in cities and whether it’s time to promote less crowded places like Clare.
January 30th this year was an important day for me as it marked my 25th year working for Aer Lingus. I started the job with an 11th-month old boy. Twenty-five years on, I have two girls as well. A career in Shannon Airport has given me the capacity to live and work in Clare, a great career which has grown with me and my family.
Another landmark moment came as I was asked to be part of the new brand launch of Aer Lingus. I was immensely proud to be part of this change and the optimism that surrounded our base, new uniforms, new aircraft and new routes to Barcelona and Paris. It felt like we were being refreshed ourselves and the anticipation of a thriving summer ahead with new exciting opportunities.
Then coronavirus brought our world to a standstill. Optimism and positivity gave way to fear and unknowing. The new uniform I had the pleasure of introducing to the world had now being introduced to hangers in my wardrobe. The travel and tourism industry is the first to bear brunt of this crisis as 16,000 passenger jets are grounded and the number flying is the lowest in 26 years.
Last year I went part-time in Aer Lingus, to help run our new cafe and be around more for my children. The first impact of the pandemic for me was that my part-time hours were reduced to half.
Then came the announcement of 900 redundancies; the uncertainty of when normal flying could resume; the difficulties of social distancing in airplanes on reduced capacity until a vaccine is found; the question of economic ability to travel; and fewer airlines with fewer flights.
In Shannon we managed to survive the impact of 9/11, the volcanic ash cloud, the removal of Heathrow slots to Belfast and the financial crisis of 2008. As a small base in the west of Ireland we always had to fight for survival. As a workforce we are strong and resilient, proving ourselves to be adaptable and flexible in the rollercoaster of aviation.
A way of life
For me and my devoted colleagues, Aer Lingus is not just a job, but a way of life – one that has opened many doors and broadened our horizons. We are not just colleagues but life-long friends.
April saw clear blue skies, no jet streams, no airplanes. Grounded and in lockdown, with a lingering uncertainty. Tough decisions to be made as we await our fate in unprecedented times. Even in recession people were still travelling. This time it will take longer to recover.
Maybe it’s the end of over-tourism in heavily populated areas and time to market Shannon and the western corridor as a more attractive, less populated area to visit? Post-pandemic, let’s look for the silver lining by using the advantage of being rural. The government needs to support Shannon Airport and the west of Ireland.
Almost 18 months ago my husband Frank and I opened ‘Sweet N Green’, our cafe in Ennis, along with Frank’s brother Martin and our fantastic team. Our ethos is creative, healthy menus with innovative choices in a warm, relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
We hit the ground running and the reaction was positive. Now not only responsible for our own family, we have a young vibrant team who look to us for guidance and security. Almost a year later we won an award from Ennis Chamber of Commerce – ‘Best Place to Eat in Clare’ – a fantastic achievement by the team.
The first two years are crucial in business and we put our heart and soul into it while trying to raise a family. Nobody tells you about the countless hours and personal sacrifice in making a business a success. It’s still a work in progress, seven days a week, but we were determined as it was Frank’s lifelong dream to own his own cafe.
Then the virus became a reality. Our first responsibility was the health and wellbeing of our staff and customers so, with a heavy heart, we closed the doors on March 16th.
Life hasn’t stopped, it’s just paused. We had to adjust, to slow down, to reset. When things are out of control, all you can do is control how you react. We had more time to reconnect as a family, making memories. One thing I’ve realised with an older son is how quickly they grow up.
In business it’s hard to see the changes you need to make until you step back. This has given us time to reflect and redirect and lead through change positively, to get online and adapt our business while it’s still in its infancy.
Post-Covid-19, the challenges for small business are reduced capacity through social distancing; static overheads on already tight margins; high unemployment with less disposable income for ‘luxuries’ such as dining out; and new health and safety guidelines.
On the flip-side, as an employer, with your employees’ destiny in your hands, I understand the financial constraints and mental anguish as they await and I await – tough decisions to be made.
As an employee of a large company and a small business employer facing an uncertain future, we need continued support from the government with wage subsidies, grants, VAT reductions and abolished rates until further notice.
We need to support each other, our local businesses, food growers and small shop owners. We need to step back two metres from the world and get ready to come back and embrace it when we can – and we will.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of all of the Clare PPN.