When the impact of COVID-19 permanently grounded budget airline Tigerair last year, Jessica Rennison thought her days working in aviation were over.
Rennison, who worked at the airline for more than seven years, found herself without a job and, with the aviation industry in a global downturn, little prospect of finding a new one.
"I was under the impression that there was no way I'd be getting another job any time soon in the aviation industry," she says. "Everyone was downsizing and downscaling.
"I was worried about what the future was going to look like and if I'd get to do something that I loved again."
But Rennison, who lives in Melbourne, is set to take to the skies again in March, as one of nine new flight attendants hired by Regional Express (Rex) for the airline's launch into the competitive Sydney-Melbourne route.
In what some aviation experts have labelled the biggest shake-up to the domestic market in 20 years, the regional airline will compete with Qantas and Virgin Australia for a slice of the country's busiest route.
It's a move that took the industry by surprise, including Rex's own investors - something the Australian Securities and Investments Commission reprimanded the airline over last month.
Rex plans to hire a total of 400 new staff hired by year's end, with 40 new pilots already employed and a further 85 flight attendants undergoing training.
On Friday the airline showed off a new look for its cabin crew, with uniforms designed in-house, to mark the launch of the route between Australia's two largest cities.
Rex's move from specialising in regional routes to competing for passengers flying between the major capitals comes in the wake of reduced services from Australia's other carriers and the end of Tigerair due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The airline has taken delivery of its first Boeing 737s (formerly flown by Virgin Australia) and plans to have up to 10 of the aircraft flying by the end of the year. The planes are a big step up from the 40-seater Saab 340 turboprops Rex currently flies on its regional routes, with 162 seats, including eight business class.
Flights on the route will feature snacks in economy class and meals for business class passengers, who will also enjoy lounge access, with the airline promising a full-service experience at budget prices.
Although most other states have currently closed their borders to NSW residents, the airline is pressing ahead with plans to start the route on March 1.
There will be 18 flights a day at launch, with plans to expand flights to other major cities from Easter onwards.
Prior to the pandemic, the Sydney-Melbourne route was the second busiest in the world, with 54,102 departures, according to aviation analyst OAG. It is surpassed only by South Korea's Seoul-Joju Island route, with a staggering 76,460 flights a year. The Korean route still holds the No.1 slot this year, while the Sydney-Melbourne route has disappeared from the top rankings.
Rennison is looking forward to getting back to the skies and seeing the public travel again, albeit under different conditions than when she last worked in the industry.
"We're wearing masks, wearing gloves, making sure we take temperatures. There's so much more to it than in a stock standard day previously," said Rennison, who has also been part of the training team for flight attendants at Rex.
She said she is not concerned about COVID-19 on flights, despite cases among international flight crew coming to Australia.
"Domestically I'm not worried," said Rennison, pointing out that Rex was the first local airline to make masks compulsory for passengers. "The standards are so high and the states are doing so much to protect travellers and crew … I think domestic travel's pretty safe and I hope we see more people realise that and get out on aircraft and get travelling soon.
"I'm excited to see people having the opportunity to get back out and to see Australia, rather than having that constant need to head overseas and see new countries. It will be nice to see people exploring their own country a bit more."