Wings clipped by Covid-19, but air stewards still serve up smiles

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SUBANG JAYA: The warm smile and kind greetings Mohd Aizamuddin Zakry Baharom once offered to passengers boarding planes have now shifted to a different clientele, with the aviation industry among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Aizamuddin, 33, is among the many air stewards who have been affected by their companies’ decision to retrench staff, with the industry expected to take its time in recovering from the economic downturn.

His “wings” were clipped in June when his name was listed during his company’s first phase of service termination, but he has remained determined to continue making the best of this life.

“There was no preparation whatsoever to be retrenched because I wasn’t expecting that situation. I consider that my relationship with the aviation industry may have ended temporarily.

“I’d be lying if I say that I’m not stressed out about the financial problems I will face and that I didn’t love the job that I was doing for nearly 10 years. It’s already become a part of me,” he told FMT.

But life has to go on, and Aizamuddin decided to make use of the rich experience he gained visiting various countries and also the reach of the internet to enter a new field: Grilled food.

Operating from his kitchen grill in USJ 2 in Subang Jaya, the former air steward now sells various forms of grilled meats, including chicken, beef, lamb and duck.

“I never ever thought of selling Thai-style grilled chicken and Danok grilled beef, but I tried to find something that isn’t often found in Malaysia. Because I’m so used to being abroad, I know what kind of food is good and can be brought here,” he said.

His job situation had raised some concerns with his 80-year-old mother in Pahang, but her blessing became a source of motivation for him, as he treated customers the way he would treat passengers in first-class.

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“God willing, who knows, maybe this business will do well. My mum has given her blessing, that’s the main thing,” he said.

Aizamuddin’s partner in the business and another former cabin crew member, Ezarul Emri Zainal Abidin, shared with FMT how the pandemic had affected his wife and two young children.

Ezarul, 36, said his youngest was born just last month, adding that he and his wife had been planning for the second child before he was retrenched from work.

Nonetheless, he said, his wife had always given him the encouragement and spirit to keep forging ahead no matter the circumstances, resorting to being an e-hailing deliveryman for several months right after losing his job.

When the opportunity to start the food business with Aizamuddin popped up, he jumped at the chance and the pair started collecting funds.

“I myself grew up in a family that ran a catering business. So I can expect the ups and downs of business,” he said.

The challenges have not been far and few between, with limited operating hours because of the ongoing conditional movement control order and even the weather affecting the presence of customers.

“We can only open here at 6pm the earliest and we need to shut the stall by 10pm. It doesn’t take a short time to grill the chicken, it takes quite a while, so these are the challenges,” he said.

But whatever the challenges, Ezarul is adamant that he has to keep standing strong for his family.

“If I were still a bachelor it wouldn’t be a problem. Now all I can think of are my wife and kids. I don’t think about anything else, my family is the priority,” he said. -FMT

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