Elli Kallinicou, a Marysville High School graduate, is one of the many flight attendants and airline workers furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the virus has temporarily grounded her dream job, she said she is hopeful that she will be recalled within a few years. (Photos submitted)
MHS grad furloughed from flight attendant job in wake of virus
The COVID-19 pandemic has grounded much of the airline industry – and with it, Elli Kallinicou’s dream job.
“I absolutely love what I do,” she said. “Getting up in the morning and going to work was really exciting.”
Becoming a flight attendant wasn’t her plan from the start, but Kallinicou quickly found her place in the skies.
The Marysville High School graduate was born in Greece and moved to the area when she was eight years old.
She went on to attend Ohio State University, where she majored in Globalization Studies and Modern Greek.
After graduating, she said she wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue but she knew she wanted it to revolve around her love of traveling.
Before finding a job, Kallinicou planned a “massive trip” backpacking through Thailand for three months. The planned adventure quickly grew into a year and a half trip throughout Southeast Asia.
When she returned to the states, she said she hoped to find a job she could settle into that would still allow her to “see what’s out there in the world.”
She said working as a flight attendant seemed like it would “feed that desire,” while allowing her to take care of people and use her Greek language.
Soon after, she was hired at a regional airline. She worked with the company for about a year and a half before being hired at American Airlines.
At American, her story seemed to come full circle when she was certified as a Greek speaker and stationed at the Chicago-Athens route.
Kallinicou said, between multiple customer service jobs during and after college, working as a flight attendant was the first one she truly loved.
After realizing being 30,000 feet in the air was where she belonged, she said she shared the feeling in a phone call with her dad.
“I told him, ‘It’s like a dream I didn’t even know existed and I’m living it,” Kallinicou said.
She said she felt especially lucky because “a lot of people never find that.”
But, a year and a half later, the coronavirus pandemic threatened her newfound career.
As the pandemic accelerated, Kallinicou said “operations were cut tremendously” and less and less employees were needed.
Although the outlook wasn’t positive, she said many flight attendants like her were able to hold onto hope for a period of time.
Thanks to federal assistance from the CARES Act, she said American was able to keep many of its employees through Oct. 1.
She said waiting to see how things unfolded was stressful, but she knew being furloughed was “always a possibility.”
“Not knowing has been really hard for a lot of us,” she said.
It wasn’t until about a month ago that she said she had to start making a plan to support herself, without her dream job.
“I had to say: It’s time to face reality,” Kallinicou said.
As the October date approached, she said she was able to lean on other flight attendants for support. She said she was encouraged by conversations with coworkers with decades-long careers who were furloughed in the past, then recalled.
“We’re all one big happy – well, one big family,” Kallinicou said.
While it’s difficult for them to step away from the tarmac, she said she knows it is only temporary.
“We will be recalled, we just don’t know when,” Kallinicou explained, adding that she feels it will be within one to two years.
Until then, she said she is staying in Chicago and searching for jobs at restaurants or nannying positions.
“It’s hard to apply knowing I already know what my dream job is,” she said.
Kallinicou said, for that reason, she sometimes struggles with a “lack of motivation.”
But, memories from her previous travels are helping her to push through her break from the airline industry.
She said she often thinks back to her time in Southeast Asia to help her “put things in perspective.”
“You can tell someone to stay positive, but the act of doing that is pretty hard,” Kallinicou said.
Even through the “bad days,” though, she said reflecting on experiences with people she met during her backpacking trip reminds her that she still has plenty of reasons to be grateful.
Until she can return to the skies, she said she hopes the pandemic provides an opportunity to “take a step back” and remember “the little things aren’t as big of a deal.”
“It’s been crazy,” she said. “It’s a volatile industry, but it’s an amazing job.”
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