After the recent deal between South African Airways (SAA) and the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA) was sealed on Monday, July 19, one pilot, Phil Parsons took to Facebook to write an open and unfiltered letter.
While much of the letter is clothed in appreciation and love for his colleagues, albeit in a heartbreaking and nostalgic kind of way, there is an undeniable tone of anger and frustration toward the powers of the SAA.
According to the terms of the SAA and SAAPA agreement, as eNCA reports, SAAPA members would be retrenched based on their current salaries, which SAAPA chairperson Grant Back expresses is the best deal “under the circumstances.”
“We haven’t been paid in 16 months. We’ve been locked out since 18 December and we’ve been on strike since 1 April. Since the onset the company had adopted starting us out, not having paid us what they owed us in 2019,” Back said.
Now with context, these are the pilot Phil’s words- a personal and powerful insight into the life of a pilot working for SAA, and his written perspective of the not only painful but anger-inducing loss that the recent era of working for the SAA encompassed for many.
“SAA, you’ve finally done it. Sixteen months after last paying us and twenty six years since hiring me, you’ve pulled the plug and retrenched us all. A sad day indeed.
My sadness transcends the beautiful machines I’ve had the privilege of flying or the wide world SAA allowed me to play in. Most of all my heart is filled with sadness at the loss of the friendships and our camaraderie as South African Airways Pilots – a select and very special band of brothers and sisters. Not all house friends, but the kind I would welcome into my home anytime.
Aviators from every walk of life, from the Head of the AWB Airwing to ANC exiles, SAAF war heros to cadets from far flung rural villages, from the naughty to the God fearing, from playboys to moms with kids at home. Every one with a flying or life story to learn from.
It sounds so cliche but our diversity truly was our strength – with varying skills and experience levels but every last one with a common love of flying and our company, in equal measure.
Who can forget the excitement of opening our rosters on the 16th of every month for a sneak peek into the following months fun. It was like opening a lucky packet. Some you preferred more than others, but all sweet nonetheless. Remember having to quite literally suck a lemon to get the smile off our faces while preparing for work or whistling while walking to our cars ?
Whether on the jumpseat to Jozi, in the corridors at work, at the Dispatch counter, the door on a crew change in Accra, in the hotel lobbies or even bumping into each other on the streets of Hong Kong, New York or Frankfurt and London, the perpetual banter was inevitable. Every encounter involving a quick whinge about management, some humorous stories about our colleagues or a belly laugh about the shenanigans on a recent trip.
Friendships cemented over hours and hours in near darkness, crossing continents and oceans. Generally avoiding politics and religion we explored each others passions, loves, losses, adventures, dreams, family dramas or madcap business ideas. More often than not while devising a mean plan of action involving exploring our exotic destination flat, interrupted only by some serious eating and drinking at our favourite haunts. From the wild parties to the quiet meals or even the solo exploring, each trip an adventure – every single time.
To say the last year and a half has been testing for us all would be a gross understatement. We’ve seen many of our colleagues pushed to the edge, only for the pilot body to step in and raise funds from within our ranks to help them – that band of Brothers and Sisters to the end.
Sadly many will give up flying and for the rest it’ll take a few years to return to the flight deck, under completely different circumstances I’m sure ?
Hang in there my friends, this crazy world will eventually right itself.
To JZ, Dudu and your cronies, the toxic mix of your greed and incompetence destroyed a once proud eighty seven year old airline of world repute. You should be riddled with guilt but, as most of the country have discovered, you have no shame.
Enriching yourselves you’ve sewn a trail of destruction in your wake. Thousands of upstanding, hardworking and loyal workers lives have been upended. For the suffering you’ve inflicted you all deserve a special kind of pain. May you rot in hell.
To those of you who are entrusted to carry on the legacy in Version 2, I wish you well. May you prove the naysayers wrong. Fly the flag and fly it safely.
Lastly, to all my colleagues and friends, I thank you for the fun and the laughter. Every last one of you has left an indelible mark and I will cherish our memories forever.
May you all find happiness beyond SAA. I will miss every one of you dearly.
Godspeed my friends.
PS. Jacob Sethlake, I will forever be indebted to you for capturing my last landing in our beloved Airbus A340-600, on a perfect day in Cape Town nogal….. Who needs Water Cannons.
It becomes easy to detach from the personal experiences of people when they are seen as another statistic in a retrenchment rollout, but hearing someone’s personal narrative is always eye-opening.
WATCH:South African Airways A340-600 Landing in Cape Town