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PETALING JAYA, Mar 2 — Malaysian pilot sisters Safia Anisa Abu Bakar and Safia Amira Abu Bakar are not letting the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic stop them from supporting their family.
Anisa, 24, has been working as a barista while her sister Amira, 29, has taken up delivery jobs to make ends meet.
In conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8, Malay Mail spoke with the sisters to find out what fuels their drive to step up as the family breadwinners during this tough period.
The two women, who are both senior first officers with AirAsia, were at the height of their careers when the first movement control order (MCO) kicked in last March, leading to the closure of Malaysia’s borders and the grounding of flights.
Anisa recalled feeling “terrified” when the first wave of the pandemic swept across the globe and had no way of envisioning the massive impact it would have on her career.
“The cases were spiking around the world and things were happening at such a rapid pace that we barely had time to comprehend what was going on, let alone what it meant for the travel industry,” said Anisa.
With nowhere to fly, the sisters began searching for other means to support their parents and their younger siblings.
Anisa now brews cups of joe part-time at a coffee chain and confessed that it was a big transition to go from working inside a cockpit to handling espresso machines behind the counter.
“I decided to get a job as a part-time barista because I’ve always had an interest in it, though it was definitely challenging at first.
“I was used to sitting down in the cockpit for eight hours so changing to a job scope that entails standing up while cleaning, attending to customers, and making food and beverages for the same duration meant it took time for me to adapt, especially since it was my first experience working in the F&B industry.”
One of the biggest motivators for Anisa to keep striving through this challenging period is her responsibility towards her family.
Her father, who is also a pilot with AirAsia, is set to retire soon and Anisa wants to put her parents’ minds at ease by ensuring their financial security.
“Our dad tells us not to worry, but yes, as working children, we definitely feel the need (to provide) and we’re really trying our best to step up.
“My sister is constantly looking for new business ideas and opportunities for us to venture into.
“It’s also the reason I’m still working part-time while also trying to kickstart a business,” said Anisa.
It was a similar struggle for Amira who had to find other ways of making an income shortly after the harsh realities of the pandemic set in.
“Before the MCO started, we were doing quite a number of flights amidst the virus spreading.
“Then, it went down drastically as travel restrictions were imposed and I started to think of what was going to happen to my job and my future.
“This pandemic has affected my life greatly — my job, my future plans, my family, everything,” said Amira.
Amira was then temporarily roped in to join the delivery team at AirAsia’s logistics arm Teleport where she helped to deliver goods on the ground.
She was grateful that her pilot skills came in handy as they made the switch to delivery work a seamless one.
“There weren’t many challenges for me. It’s more like flying but on-ground and a lot easier,” she said.
Amira and Anisa previously went viral on Twitter in 2019 after their father left his job at another flight carrier to join AirAsia for the chance to fly with his daughters.
A photo of the sisters with their dad in the cockpit warmed the hearts of social media users who couldn’t help but marvel at their familial bond.
This man left the company he's been w for 40 years, started fresh as a junior, got a new rating at the age of 58, just so he could fly w 2 of his annoying daugters. I cannot tell you how grateful i am for this. Alhamdulillah, i finally got to fly w my abah! :') pic.twitter.com/NQGGO4ucLO— Safia Anisa (@SafiaAnisa) July 12, 2019
Amira said her father has been a pillar of strength for her during the past year which has wreaked havoc on the airline industry.
The pandemic also bore a silver lining for their family as the three pilots finally got to spend more time with each other at home.
“I’ve never seen him at home this much, always my mum but not him.
“He advised us to stay strong, keep praying, and never give up.
“If this doesn’t work out, there are many other options out there,” said Amira.
With Covid-19 vaccinations rolling out across Malaysia and the world, the sisters are hopeful for a brighter future ahead in the airline industry and hope to return to their full-time jobs at AirAsia soon.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, Anisa is rooting for working women whose careers have been upended by the pandemic and hopes they can get back to the grind soon.
“Better days are coming, especially with the vaccines now being rolled out so we just have to push through and keep our faith.
“I know there are a lot of women out there who have it harder than others, and it definitely puts things in perspective.
“But just know we’re always praying for our collective good fortunes, and we will always try to help out during these challenging times in any way we can.”