Before disembarking from her last flight, flight attendant Breaunna Ross shared a message of kindness to her passengers.
“With so much happening in the world, you never know how small actions can impact the next person,” the 29-year-old told those on board an American Airlines flight from Jacksonville, Florida, to her home in Dallas on Sept. 27. “Please be kind to one another, practice compassion with everyone, live with acceptance of yourself and others, and until I see you guys in the friendly skies again, please take care of yourself and your health.”
Ross, who had been an American Airlines flight attendant for a little over two years, was in tears as she read the message over the plane’s PA system shortly after the flight landed. She is just one of tens of thousands of airline employees who have been furloughed as the travel industry struggles to survive amid the coronavirus pandemic. Though she was devastated to find out that she'd be out of a job, she wasn't surprised.
"I’ve paid attention to what's all going on in the world," Ross told TODAY by phone, referencing the impact that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has had on airlines. "I could see how much we were affected and other airlines, even other airlines in the world. So I knew it was coming."
Plane passenger volumes across the nation are down 67% compared to last year due to decreased travel and virus-related shutdowns around the world, according to Airlines for America, a trade association that represents a number of major North American airlines. And while the government had initially offered relief through the Payroll Support Program, part of the coronavirus relief bill, which helped companies continue to pay employees for months even as profits dropped significantly, that support expired Oct. 1.
As Ross coped with this new reality, she decided to post the video of her speech to Facebook and made it public after a fellow flight attendant requested to share it. From there, Ross says the video “took off,” gaining more than 2 million views across a number of social media platforms.
“It’s overwhelming, honestly,” Ross said of the massive response. “I was just being myself, trying to say something nice...I just wanted to leave something heartfelt.”
One passenger on the flight was so moved that she decided to make a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Ross’ honor. Ross said the woman gave her a handwritten note while getting off the plane. “I don’t know your name, but I know that a child’s day will be made better because of you,” it reads. “May you forever soar.”
And it wasn’t just passengers and millions of internet viewers who had a strong response to Ross’ speech. A few days after the video went viral, she received a call from an unknown number, which she chose to ignore. Then she noticed a text stating that Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines, wanted to speak with her.
“He told me he saw the video and how touched he was,” Ross said. She said Parker told her how grateful he was that she was a part of his team. "He kept saying, ‘I’m going to get you guys back as soon as I can.’”
While Ross hopes to return to her job as a flight attendant, for now, she is starting a new chapter as a student in esthetician school. But many of her peers are struggling to find other opportunities. Leo Valladares is one of many furloughed flight attendants who is struggling to find a job during the pandemic.
“It’s kind of hard at the moment; there’s no jobs that are hiring,” Valladares told TODAY by phone. “The jobs that I have applied for, they just denied me.”
The 25-year-old Chicago resident explained that a flight attendant’s duties extend far beyond what the average passenger sees. “We act like grief counselors, we act as a celebratory maître d', we’re caregivers...we’re babysitters,” Valladares said.
For Ross, she hopes her message provides some inspiration for the large community of airline workers who are now out of work. She said she’s been contacted by fellow flight attendants and airline workers thanking her for her inspiring words.
“I just wanted to leave everybody with some words off of my heart,” Ross said. “ I’m so grateful it's touched so many people that it has.”