For most people, Boston Logan International Airport is a place you pass through — a temporary stop on the way to some other destination, like a Thanksgiving family gathering.
But for Mario Seide, Logan has been his near-daily destination since he moved to the United States in 2018. Within days of leaving the southern coast of Haiti for Massachusetts, Seide said he began working as a wheelchair attendant at the airport. He enjoys the job because, he said, "I don't like to sit still."
His employer, Superior Aircraft Company (SAS), contracts with Logan. He makes about $15 per hour.
Before the pandemic, this job was a living. Enough to share the rent at a house in Everett where he lives with three brothers. Enough to support his teenage son and still have time to play soccer after work.
But since the coronavirus took hold and air travel plunged, Seide, 46, has faced reduced work hours, unpredictable scheduling and weeks-long stretches of unemployment. And although his hours have become steadier as millions of people fly home for Thanksgiving, he's not sure how long that will last.
Plus, the tens of thousands of travelers passing through Logan, along with a resurgent outbreak create another source of anxiety for Seide.
"Even though people are dying in huge numbers every day, I have to risk it and put myself out there and go to work," he told WBUR.
The following is an edited conversation with Mario Seide, translated from Haitian Creole.
My COVID Economy: Mario Seide
What is it like to work as a wheelchair attendant?
If there are people on a flight who can't walk, old people, for example, they order wheelchairs for them, and we go get them at the gate, and we drop them off downstairs so they could take a cab or whatever mode of transportation they're using to get home.
I like to work. I don't like to sit still. I like doing activities and moving around. As long as I have activities to do, I prefer that over sitting down.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your job?
The pandemic really made things go downhill. I spent two months not working. I had to use what I had to pay my rent, buy food, do everything. Actually, still to this day, things are really hard.
The job changed because they began laying people off. At first, they laid me off. And then two weeks later, they called me back in. After that I worked in February, March until August. Then I took vacation time.
When I returned from vacation in August they told me to bring testing paperwork because of the pandemic. I took the test and wasn't infected. I spent two more months at home and they never called me. It's just recently in November that they called me back.
[Since he started working again, Seide said his assigned shifts have fluctuated anywhere from four to 20 hours per week — far less than the 40 hours per week he was used to before the pandemic. During his periods of unemployment, Seide said he was able to obtain unemployment assistance: about $250 per week in state benefits, plus an extra $600 per week in federal supplemental benefits which expired in July.]
What is your financial situation right now?
It affected my finances a lot. Now, I can tell you that I have nothing left. All I do is pay my rent and I also have my son to take care of. I just entered this country not too long ago, it's only been three years.
How is your son handling the situation?
I'm the dad, I have to provide and give him everything he needs. If I can't give him something he asks for, I tell him to wait the next day or the day after. He understands the situation.
You know, he's a boy. There are certain things that he sees when he goes to school that he wants, and he asks me for them. You know that's how kids are. They see something, and they want it, they tell you. I would like to do it for him, but now I have to tell him to wait some time, and I'll be able to do it for him.
What are you feeling in this moment?
A lot of feelings. I feel a lot. This disease came. It doesn't discriminate, it doesn't see color and doesn't see rich or poor. It's a disease that anyone can contract. That creates a lot of frustration for me. Even though people are dying in huge numbers every day, I have to risk it and put myself out there and go to work. Because I can’t stay home. I have no choice but to work so I can survive.
What do you want people to takeaway from your story?
With the disease, people are forced to fear each other. No one wants to be near each other. We all have to be prudent. So, with all that, the job has slowed down. The situation is stressful. The minute the person sees you, they distance themselves, they don't want to touch or be near you.
[The company] asked us not to touch the people, but there are people that you have to touch, because if they can't walk at all, you have to go in and get them from the plane and put them on the chair.
If it takes a while for the airline industry to come back, do you have another plan?
If in the USA, which is a powerful country, a disease like this can come and
they still haven't found a cure to this day, it's only God. And for the airline companies, they've slowed down because people are not traveling. Planes that used to carry 190, 200 people, are now carrying 30 to 60.
It's the whole country that's suffering from the pandemic. We'll wait for God. He will make a miracle happen somehow.