Grounded by the Pandemic, This Pilot is Now a ‘Grab’ Driver

Mahesak Wongpa in the cockpit as a pilot. Right, Mahesak drives his car in an interview with Khaosod.

BANGKOK — Mahesak used to taxi the skies, crisscrossing the globe as a pilot. Today, he’s taxiing the streets of Bangkok as a driver for a ride-hailing application.

Former first pilot Mahesak Wongpa, 50, is just one of the many victims in Thailand’s aviation business, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking to Khaosod during his shift, Mahesak said the epidemic forced him to take up a very different kind of driving job, and overcome his pride in the process. 

“Since my status has changed due to reality, I decided to get out of my comfort zone,” Mahesak said. “I don’t think of it as replacing the income I had as a pilot. It’s much less money, but it’s still money.

Mahesak declined to say in the interview which airline he worked for, but said that all of his flights were grounded back in March. He could no longer fly. Soon enough, he was let go from work.


“The skies were all closed, and everything was overcast. I knew I had to find something to do,” Mahesak wrote on Oct. 29 in a Facebook post. It went viral in no time. 

“I remembered that I still had one more skill since my teenage years – driving.”

79244448 10214667137248087 4989436105871851520 o e1605173976960
Photo: Mahesak Wongpa / Facebook

“I decided to sign up with Grab. The process was easy, but it was difficult to overcome my own feelings. I thought, ‘would people look down on me? ‘A pilot turned-Grab driver,’ and ‘If I run into someone I know, I would be so embarrassed,” he wrote.

But driving his first customer – from Lad Prao to Phahonyothin for a fare of 59 baht – gave him the encouragement to keep going. 

“I told myself, don’t think that it’s too little money. You have to use whatever skills you have,” he recalled in the interview with Khaosod. 

“There are many roads to success if you are brave enough to get out of your comfort zone.” 

Mahesak is among the three million Thais – at least – who are said to have lost their jobs since the virus struck in January. Almost a fourth of Thais still employed also feel insecure about their employment, a survey found. 

The aviation industry is one of the most hard-hit, alongside tourism. Debt-ridden national carrier Thai Airways has had to open a cafe, sell bags made from life vests, fry dough fritters, and even charter a holy flight to nowhere in order to make money. 

During a visit to the Thai Airways Cafe by a reporter, a pilot said that his job was mopping the floor.

Related stories:


A Fourth of Thais Fear Their Jobs are On the Line: Survey

Unemployment Figures Better Than Expected: Labour Minister

Thai Airways Lists Toothpicks, Napkins in 11.11 Sales