That points to a bleak future for career pilots, many of whom fell in love with planes as children. “Nobody stumbles into the job by accident,” said Robert Bor, clinical director at the Centre for Aviation Psychology, which helps screen pilots for many U.K. carriers. “It attracts the dedicated, the passionate, and sometimes the slightly obsessive.”

In Leeds, northern England, Dave Fielding dreamed of flying fighters since he received a toy plane when he was 7. After discovering he was prone to air sickness, he became a commercial pilot instead. Now a 53-year-old captain, Fielding has flown with British Airways since 1993.

He hasn’t flown for months now, and even the best-case scenario calls for more waiting.  As a condition of their government aid, the U.K. airlines can begin bringing pilots back part-time in July, but some will be out through at least October, maybe longer. British Airways aims to cut as many as 12,000 jobs, starting with voluntary retirements.

Newly grounded, Fielding and some colleagues got to work setting up lounges in hospitals to support front-line health workers and serve them tea, coffee and snacks. Project Wingman, as it’s called, now has more than 5,000 air-crew volunteers spread across more than 50 hospitals.

Airline staff are now being encouraged to apply for all sorts of jobs in the hospitals, according to Fielding. “If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that it is a new world,” he said. “This project has opened up options for our volunteers.”

On the popular Professional Pilots Rumour Network, furloughed pilots are talking about their new jobs. A Boeing 737 pilot says stacking supermarket shelves in Australia is “very tough considering I have just over 60-70k of debt.” An Airbus A320 pilot writes of a part-time security job, which pays “in a week what I did earn in half a day.” Another is fixing and installing swimming pools.

It may all be temporary. Boeing points out that passenger demand has repeatedly bounced back after market shocks. Recent setbacks include the SARS outbreak in 2003, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and the financial crisis less than a decade later.

“The same will begin to happen as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides,” Boeing said in a statement. “Over the long term, the fundamentals that drive the demand for air travel and air freight—and the pilots and technicians who make it possible—are still in place.”

In the short-term, major U.S. airlines including Delta and United Airlines Holdings Inc. need to cut about 20% of their pilots, according to a June 3 report from Cowen and Co. Most of those cuts—between 11,000 and 13,000 in all, will be orchestrated through early retirement. The carriers can’t implement layoffs until after Sept. 30 under the terms of government aid, making Oct. 1 “a day many within the industry are dreading,” Cowen analyst Helene Becker wrote.

Airlines worldwide already plan to eliminate tens of thousands of workers to preserve cash during the years-long recovery. Deutsche Lufthansa AG has said it may have a surplus of 22,000 positions, Alitalia an excess of 6,800. Emirates Group, the world’s biggest long-haul carrier, is considering slashing about 30,000 staff.