The mantle of Ms Pawlak’s home at Maddingley, west of Melbourne, is filled with model airplanes and historical pictures of the aviation industry she adores.
They are reminders of the 44-year-old’s two-decade career working for carriers including Impulse Airlines, which was acquired by Qantas in the early 2000s and later became Jetstar. She started working with Virgin Blue in 2008 before its transition into Virgin Australia.
The cabin manager attributed some of her greatest memories of her working life at Virgin to colleagues as well as passengers.
“I remember a lady travelling from Adelaide to Melbourne who was really upset,” she said. “The flight is under an hour and in that time you’ve got to take off and land, so you have probably 25 to 30 minutes to serve these passengers. By the end of that flight I was slumped in the seat next to her in tears. She was carrying an urn with her daughter’s ashes inside.
“Our role is very unique and we connect with people on so many different levels. People may forget what you say but they will never forget the way you make them feel.”
Ms Pawlak said she fell in love with air travel during a three-month trip across Europe with her grandparents as a little girl. She said she would never forget the day she first stepped aboard a towering Singapore Airlines 747.
“That moment has remained stamped in my memory for the rest of my life. I fell in love with aviation that day,” she says.
“My grandfather continued to travel back to Poland every 12 months and send me postcards from the sky when legacy airlines still offered to post them.
“He kept the dream alive for me, so to have that dream stripped away is devastating for me.”
Ms Pawlak said she remained hopeful administrators could secure a future for Virgin Australia.
She wanted Australians to take note of the devastating effects of seeing 16,000 people left without jobs, and to consider what air travel might look like without healthy competition keeping prices down.
“We are human and we contribute to the Australian economy, we pay our taxes and work to provide a roof over our heads and to put food on the table just like you,” she said.
“I don’t believe it’s too late for Virgin.”
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.