My Experience Working for an Airline Amidst a Pandemic

By Emma Rasmussen, Correspondent

The year 2020 began about as routinely as any other— looking back on the highlights and sorrows of the previous one, and dreaming up plans for the next. I was in the interview process with Republic Airways, an Indianapolis-based regional airline that operates many east coast Embraer E-170 flights for United, Delta, and American. This would be my second internship experience, and I would finally be working an aviation safety position, something of great interest to me, even if it was uncharted territory in my burgeoning professional life. Needless to say, being hired for the position brought immense joy and excitement to my life. Little did I know, however, that trouble was brewing half a world away.

When COVID-19 became a growing threat and secured itself a recurring role in the twenty-four hour news cycle, I assumed it would be yet another “disease scare” not unlike its predecessors, Zika Virus, Ebola, Swine Flu, and MERS. Simply put, I felt it would blow over within a matter of months. I was terribly wrong, and by mid-March, my world and the worlds of many were turned upside down seemingly overnight. Embry-Riddle told us we couldn’t stay as the situation escalated, and my dad was sent rushing across the desolation of New Mexico and eastern Arizona less than twenty-four hours later.

In the weeks that followed, I held out hope that I would still be able to move to Indianapolis for the summer. I was looking forward to living in a place completely unlike Arizona or my home state of Colorado. In an increasingly less-sane world, the glimmer of hope that moving to Indiana offered brought comfort. A week before I had planned to move, my manager called to let me know that Republic Airways would not be proceeding with the in-person internship during these uncertain times, and that we would instead be persevering through this never-ending nightmare virtually. Deep inside, I knew that phone call was coming, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I was disappointed, but I knew that working in the hardest-hit industry during a pandemic would be a rewarding and life-changing experience. It would be a story I could tell for years to come. 

My manager and her colleagues painstakingly designed the internship program over the course of several months in the fall of 2019, and most impressively redesigned our virtual program in a matter of three weeks. Admittedly, I was worried that we would be thrusted into busywork and side-projects nobody else at the company wanted to do. My worries were assuaged when we were given a preview of the projects we would be working on— and they were high-level. Republic Airways’ wants to broaden the business model of their flight school, LIFT Academy, and five of us were at the forefront of this project. We were also assigned research on how aspiring airline pilots fund their training, which allowed LIFT Academy to better understand their clientele. 

Within the first week of my virtual experience, I was sent a company laptop and Republic Airways branded swag— making the program not only feel more official, but more reflective of the professional environment. We were given an inside look into the world of a company fighting for its survival in an industry impacted by something so small, the naked eye cannot detect it. Treading water with government stimulus and six-thousand dedicated employees, Republic Airways afforded us the opportunity with a virtual internship. Many airlines outright cancelled their internships, but Republic Airways and the women who fought to see ours through didn’t

My internship experience concluded with two final presentations, one where I presented the work I completed as an individual, and one where I presented the expanded business model with my group to our superiors. Outside of the projects we were assigned, we attended several informational meetings exploring different areas of the company’s operation. It was a unique and interesting experience, but also a sad one, as we were shown charts of cancellations across the three airlines Republic Airways operates for. Navigating communication and collaborative efforts with individuals across the country presented new challenges and learning opportunities. 
I wanted to experience a place unlike Colorado or Arizona badly this summer. I wanted to meet all my co-workers in person, and there were projects I wanted to work on, but couldn’t. However, I am forever grateful for the opportunity Republic Airways gave me during these troubling times. After all, not many college students can say they worked for an airline during a global pandemic. I can’t imagine this will be an experience I soon forget.