Back down to earth: pilot turns to food deliveries

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Apr 21 (efe-epa).- Just one month ago, Thanun Khantantatbumroong was living the high-life as an airline pilot. But the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen thousands of flights grounded amid global travel restrictions to slow the spread of the disease, has forced him into a temporary career change that has seen him hop onto his motorbike to deliver food to Bangkok’s residents.

“Last month, my airline cut my salary by 75 percent for six months, so now I get only a 25 percent salary,” Thanun, a captain with more than 18 years of experience and 18,000 hours of flight time under his belt, tells Efe. “That’s why I decided to find a temporary job.”

The 48-year-old pilot explains that, despite keeping a quarter of his wage, he needs more revenue to cover his costs, bank loans and the salaries of two employees of a restaurant he opened this year.

The eatery was forced to close due to the pandemic, and the two employees have continued making papaya salads (known locally as “som tam”) to take away, but they cannot do home deliveries.

That is where Thanun enters the picture: every morning, he dons the familiar ubiquitous green jacket worn by Grab delivery drivers all over Bangkok and Southeast Asian cities, and heads out into the sprawling Thai capital city’s narrow streets.

He acknowledges that one of his goals is to dispel the notion that all pilots have “high egos” and refuse to lower themselves to carry out menial tasks.

Thanun, who preferred not to reveal which airline he worked for, says the hardest part of his new job as a delivery driver is handling the scorching April heat, which regularly sees temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius, as well as finding some well-hidden addresses down some of Bangkok’s narrow alleys.

“Google Maps is not very accurate sometimes,” he says, echoing complaints that many of the capital’s residents share.

He says he works seven days a week, earning around 1,500 baht ($ 46) per day, although he says he can make twice that amount on a good day.

While it is significantly less than his pilot’s salary of around 200,000 baht, it is still decent money in a country where the minimum daily wage is under 325 baht.

Thanun, who piloted an Airbus 330 before the shutdown, created a profile on Line, the most popular social media app in Thailand, where other pilots and airline crew can share their experiences of being out of work or having their wages slashed, as well as a Facebook page, which already has more than 2,000 followers.

“Jobs do not choose people, it’s the people who choose the job,” is one of the motivational phrases the pilot has posted on Facebook.

The coronavirus, which has caused 2,800 confirmed cases and 48 deaths in the country, has had a major impact on Thailand’s economy, which is heavily reliant on tourist visitors.

More than 7 million people have already lost their jobs, and that figure is expected to increase to 10 million in the coming months if the crisis is prolonged.

With the country facing one of the most severe economic crises in recent history, Thanun hopes that his initiative and online messages of hope can help inspire his compatriots.

“I would like to be the moral support for everyone to go through the crisis together, keep fighting together,” he says. EFE


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