Monday, April 21, 2008

SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Asian cabin crew dispute

SAS logoLast month I reported that Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly employing Asian flight attendants without Danish work permits. The airline also was accused of paying the Asian cabin crew members substandard wages.

The matter was heard in the Copenhagen City Court, and the Copenhagen Post reports that SAS was found guilty of the charges and fined DKK 900,000. SAS has appealed the verdict to the Danish High Court.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed in the Danish Parliament to allow SAS, which is partly owned by the Danish government, to use Chinese personnel on its route between Copenhagen and Beijing. Now the Copenhagen Post is reporting that if parliament does not allow SAS to use Asian cabin crew, the airline has said it may re-register its planes in Norway or Sweden.

The Copenhagen Post article quotes Lars Sandahl Sørensen, CEO of SAS International, who said, "Although it's a solution we'd rather avoid, we might be forced into it."

Planes registered in Denmark are required to operate with personnel who are legally allowed to work in Denmark. The same permit rule may exist in Sweden and Norway as well, but Sørensen said, "...if it does then it would only apply to those countries' own airspaces, and not to Denmark." In other words, the plan seems to be to fly the Beijing-Copenhagen route with planes registered outside of Denmark, in order to dodge the Danish work permit rule.

Sørensen said that employing Chinese crews has nothing to do with paying them lower wages and everything to do with service.

"It's integral for us to have Chinese cabin crews on our flights to China because half the passengers are Chinese," he said. "And it's hard to provide good service for them if we can't communicate."

Sørensen said SAS could not pay the Chinese flight attendants Danish wages because it would create a huge salary disparity between them and their colleagues working on the ground in mainland China. The Chinese crew members earn around 10,000 kroner less per month than their Danish counterparts.
This argument sounds similar to excuses given by Air New Zealand for paying its Chinese cabin crew a fraction of what it pays New Zealand nationals to do identical work. Verner Lundtoft, president of the Cabin Attendants Union, says that the SAS threat to sidestep Danish law is "appalling," and I agree.
"We're talking about a partially state-owned and listed company attempting to avoid the requirements of Danish law," said Lundtoft. "It's completely unacceptable."

Lundtoft pointed out that none of SAS' competitors have employed Asian personnel on their China routes without providing equal working conditions.

"Finnair says it pays their Asian crews Finnish wages, Lufthansa has Chinese cabin crew members earning German scale pay, and Air France has interpreters on board its Asian flights," said Lundtoft.
Apparently SAS can legally re-register its planes in Sweden and Norway, as the airline is a Scandinavian-operated company. It remains to be seen if this will solve the labor issue, however.

It's time for all international air carriers to pay all crew equally for equal work, regardless of ethnicity or national origin. No excuses!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Several injured in severe turbulence incident on United Airlines DEN-PHX flight

United Airlines A320Earlier this week, a United Airlines flight encountered severe turbulence while en route from Denver to Phoenix. Several people on board were injured, including at least one flight attendant.

The incident happened on the evening of Tuesday, April 15, 2008 on United Flight UAL 1427, an Airbus A320 aircraft. According to news reports, the turbulence began about 30 minutes after the aircraft departed Denver International Airport. The aircraft turned back to Denver where it landed safely.

The FAA's preliminary report about this turbulence incident provides few details, however descriptions of what happened have appeared in several news media reports. An article on IN-Forum News included an account of the scene given by Mr. Keith Holland, who was a passenger on the flight:

...When the Airbus A320 hit cruising speed, the seat-belt sign was turned off, flight attendants started serving drinks and Holland began working on his laptop.

Then there was a bump caused by turbulence, which seemed normal at first, Holland said.

But when he looked out the window from his aisle seat, Holland saw the plane tilted to the right – “the wing was tipped to the ground. I could see the ground.”

The beverage cart bounced around and the drinks and cups spilled out, he said. One flight attendant was thrown to the ceiling and passengers’ personal belongings – including Holland’s laptop – flew into the air.

After the laptop hit the overhead compartment, “I pulled it to my chest and held it hard,” which caused some sore ribs, he said. “The flight attendant was bouncing along like a ping-pong ball.”
Mr. Holland added that the flight attendant who hit the ceiling recovered enough to continue working on the way back to Denver, but that another flight attendant required medical attention. He also observed a passenger with "a bloody face" who, he said, "needed paramedics to help her off the plane."

An article about the turbulence incident on the website of Denver television channel CBS 4 mentioned that one passenger and one flight attendant who were injured were hospitalized. The CBS 4 article includes a video clip that includes comments from a passenger who was on board UAL Flight 1427.

Friday, April 11, 2008

American Airlines flight attendants get pay protection for lost time

APFA logoAmerican Airlines will provide pay protection to flight attendants who lost time as a direct result of flight cancellations during the recent grounding of the airline's MD80 fleet. According to an announcement posted on April 10, 2008 to the website of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants, "This pay protection applies not only to monthly guarantee but also to those who have lost high-time hours as well as commuters who were unable to make their trips - as a result of the MD80 re-inspections - after having followed commuter policy guidelines."

A separate agreement, also announced on April 10, 2008, provides American Airlines flight attendants with a mechanism to restore Personal Vacation Days (PVDs) that were voluntarily used to supplement pay following last month's MD80 cancellations. Flight attendants who used PVDs to protect loss of pay will have the option to make up time in order to restore the PVDs that were used.

Letters of Understanding for both the pay protection agreement and the PVD recovery agreement stipulate that they are offered on a non-precedent setting basis. Details can be found in the following documents:

American Airlines also reached a similar agreement with its pilots regarding pay protection. American Airlines pilots are represented by the Allied Pilots Association.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pick-up lines flight attendants hear

Southwest Airlines logoHow about something a little more light-hearted than our usual fare of cabin safety news and flight attendant labor issues: I noticed an entertaining article posted to Nuts About Southwest, the official blog of Southwest Airlines. It was written by a Carole Adams, a Dallas-based flight attendant while looking for a home in San Antonio.

Ms. Adams wrote Drop Me a Line, a collection of pick-up lines heard by flight attendants. Here's a sample of the pick-up lines on her list:

“You have to know CPR because you take my breath away.”

“I’m not drunk. I’m just intoxicated by you!”

“If I borrowed your glasses, could I see you tomorrow night?”

“Congratulations, you’ve just been voted the most beautiful Flight Attendant. I’m your prize!”
Okay, stop rolling your eyes. I know they're groaners, but I think that's the point.!

There are others on that post, and still more contributed by readers in the Comments section at the end of the post. Go and have a look at Drop Me a Line. Go ahead and add your favorite (or least favorite!) pick-up line to the list -- there, or here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Flight attendant sues Arkia Airlines for unpaid work on the ground

Arkia Airlines Boeing 757A flight attendant in Israel is suing her former employer for pay she says is owed her for work she did while on the ground. Shiri Segal, who worked for Arkia Airlines for nearly 10 years, recently filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv Labor Court against the Israeli carrier on the grounds that the airline does not pay flight attendants for work they do while not flying. Ms. Segal is asking for compensation of NIS 140,000 (equivalent to about US $38,750).

An article about the lawsuit on the Israeli business news website Globes Online explains:

Segal says that as a matter of policy, which is stipulated in labor contracts, Arkia pays flight attendants only for hours actually in the air. In other words, "from the moment that the plane is moving under its own power from the terminal to the takeoff point and until the engines are shut down after landing."

Segal claims that a large part of a flight attendant's work is spent on the ground, before and after a flight. This work includes, but is not limited to, accepting the planes and handing them over, checking the plane before embarkation and after disembarkation of passengers, examining emergency equipment, positioning seat belts, and preparing drink and food carts.

She says that on international flights, she usually begins work at least two hours before takeoff and for two more hours after landing at the destination. Ground work in Israel on the return trip after landing is usually 1.5 hours, for a total of 5.5 hours for which no compensation is paid.
Ms. Segal also notes that Arkia never paid her for the hours waiting for the return flight.

I'm sure that the progress of this lawsuit will be of interest to cabin crew around the world, most of whom are similarly unpaid for work they do on the ground. Most people outside the industry probably are unaware that flight attendants are paid only for "block time" -- that is, from the time the aircraft door closes just prior to departure, until the aircraft's engines are shut down at the destination.

How is it that cabin crew are contractually obligated to perform certain tasks before and after flights, but are not paid for those tasks and the time it takes to perform them? Many of these procedures are safety related, required by government regulations, yet crew are expected to carry them out without any sort of compensation.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, it calls attention to an entrenched practice in the aviation industry that denies proper compensation to crew for the legitimate and necessary work they do on the ground. Clearly, this practice needs to be reconsidered. If the work is of value to the carrier -- and it is -- then those who do it should be fairly compensated.

[Photo Source]

Friday, April 4, 2008

Flight attendant jobs and hiring trends

Cabin crewThe bad news: Recently, several airlines have shut down their passenger operations, leaving thousands of their employees suddenly jobless. Among those are hundreds of capable, experienced flight attendants.

The good news (relatively speaking) is that some airlines and corporate aviation departments are hiring cabin crew at this time. One place on the web where you can find out who is hiring flight attendants is, a website that specializes in following hiring trends for cabin crew. The website features valuable information about the overall market for cabin crew jobs -- both commercial and corporate -- as well as specific job listings. charges no fees for job referrals.

This week, launched a new feature: A monthly hiring forecast. The April 2008 Hiring Forecast is up on the website now, and a new one will be posted each month. This month's report mentions which mainline, regional, and charter carriers in the U.S. are hiring flight attendants, as well several opportunities for cabin crew outside the United States. The report includes direct links to career fairs and the recruiting pages of airlines that are accepting online applications. Go and have a look. I think you'll find to be a very worthwhile job search resource, whether you are an experienced flight attendant looking for a new position, or seeking to enter the cabin crew profession for the first time.

Good luck in your job search. Happy Landings!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Former NFL lineman fined for pushing flight attendant

Former professional football player Tyoka Jackson (in photo at right), who had been a defensive lineman for several NFL teams, was ordered by a federal jury to pay a flight attendant $3,000 for an incident that happened on board a Northwest Airlines flight between Memphis and St. Louis in 2005.

According to a news story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the flight attendant testified in court that Mr. Jackson pushed him, sending him "toppling onto a passenger and the armrest in seats across the aisle." Jackson was said to be upset because the flight attendant asked him to stow a laptop bag under the first-class seats.

Jackson's attorney, Tom Magee, said in his opening statement that Jackson "used only such force he thought was necessary to stop this man from touching him against his wishes. He was not trying to hurt him."

[The flight attendant] testified that Jackson did "not simply push me, he threw me across the airplane."

"His hands came up so fast and hit me in the chest, and back I went."
The flight attendant also testified that he suffered back pain, a deep leg bruise and anxiety. He said he finds it hard to work because he now fears confrontations with unruly passengers.

In their suit against Mr. Jackson, the flight attendant and his wife had asked for more than a million dollars, but last week jurors ordered Mr. Jackson to pay $3,000 to cover medical expenses incurred by the flight attendant, according to the Associated Press.

Tyoka Jackson played professional football in the NFL from 1994 through 2006, most recently for the Detroit Lions. Earlier he had played for the Miami Dolphins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the St. Louis Rams.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Delta Air Lines opposes flight attendant unionization

Delta Airlines logoAs I wrote here in Cabin Crew News last month, Delta flight attendants are seeking union representation. In that article I wrote:

Up to now, Delta flight attendants have not been unionized. Although there has been growing dissatisfaction with pay and work rules among the rank and file, it seems that the tipping point came as Delta began engaging in merger talks with other carriers. Now a growing number of Delta's flight attendants are acknowledging the potential value of representation by a formal collective bargaining unit such as the AFA [the Association of Flight Attendants].
On February 14, 2008, a majority of Delta flight attendants did indeed submit signature cards to the National Mediation Board (NMB), formally requesting union representation. Yesterday, the NMB officially announced that the flight attendants' request for election of a union had been authorized. In its letter to Delta Air Lines and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the NMB indicated that "the election will be conducted by Telephone Electronic Voting and Internet Voting."
The Notice and Sample Instruction will be sent out on April 16, 2008. The Voting Instructions will be mailed to the employees on April 23, 2008. The voting period will be from 12:01 a.m., ET, April 23, 2008, through June 3, 2008. The tally will take place at the Board's offices on June 3, 2008, at 2 p.m. ET.
Today, Delta's response to this news was to issue a press release with a very lengthy title:

Delta Flight Attendants to Decide on Union Representation; Company Says Direct Relationship with Management Best for Flight Attendants

That title, folks, is the story in a nutshell. But there is a longer version. The press release, referenced above, included the text of a statement from Joanne Smith, senior vice president – In-Flight Service and Global Product Development, as follows:
“Delta flight attendants will make one of the most important decisions of their careers over the coming months as they choose between a direct relationship with Delta’s management team or the cost and risk of a third-party representative,” Smith said. “Our flight attendants have long been successful at speaking for themselves and we continually demonstrate our willingness to respond quickly and directly to their individual and collective feedback. I’m asking all of our flight attendants to make an educated choice, based on fact.

“The facts are: Delta flight attendants have it better than what the Association of Flight Attendants’ has been able to deliver at other airlines, and those airlines’ contracts are not open to changes for several years to come – years in which Delta flight attendants will continue to enjoy higher rates of pay, a better profit sharing program and a better performance rewards program.

“In contrast, the AFA’s track record at other network carriers is not a good one. The AFA has demonstrated that its members have not been protected from pay cuts, job loss, pension termination or any other changes affecting the airline industry. And flight attendants at those other airlines also must pay hundreds of dollars per year in union dues.

“Delta has good momentum thanks to the hard work of all Delta people and we look forward to the ability to continue working on their behalf and responding to their feedback,” Smith continued.
An Associated Press article about the upcoming union election, published on and elsewhere, quoted Corey Caldwell, an AFA-CWA spokeswoman, who said Smith's statement is "typical, anti-union rhetoric that companies use."
"The truth is when there is a union on property, there's just as much communication with management as there was before," Caldwell said. "The only thing that changes is this time the flight attendants get to determine the issues and policies that affect them as a group instead of being dependent on the company to make decisions for them."
For further insight about what rank-and-file Delta flight attendants are thinking about the unionization issue, visit the Delta Voices page of the website opened by AFA to support the campaign by Delta flight attendants for unionization. There, dozens of Delta flight attendants have come forward publicly to share with their flying partners their reasons for supporting the move to unionize.

Should Delta's flight attendants succeed in their bid to unionize, they will be airline's the second major work group to have union representation. At the present time, only Delta's pilots are represented by a union; they are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cabin fire aboard Etihad Airways A330

News media in the Middle East are reporting that a fire erupted aboard an Etihad Airways A330-200 aircraft while it was in flight. According to the Gulf News, the incident happened on March 13, 2008 during the cruise phase of a flight between Dhaka, Bangladesh and Abu Dhabi, UAE. Cabin crew were able to extinguish the fire, and no injuries were reported amongst the 231 passengers, two pilots and 11 cabin crew on board the flight. The flight continued to Abu Dhabi, where it landed safely.

The Gulf News article about the incident quoted Iain Burns, vice-president of corporate communications for Etihad Airways, who explained that a passenger had lit a cigarette inside one of the aircraft's lavatories, and that the cigarette then ignited some toilet paper. The lavatory's smoke detector alarm activated, and the cabin crew responded. Mr. Burns said that "the flames were swiftly extinguished by our alert, calm and expertly-trained cabin crew."

In their story about the in-flight fire, the Khaleej Times noted that the passenger who started the fire "was not arrested on arrival at the Abu Dhabi International Airport but has been banned by Etihad from further travel with it." The passenger was not named.

Congratulations to the Etihad cabin crew for a job well done and thanks to for managing the unexpected transfers so well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Flight attendant hiring freeze at United Airlines?

United Airlines logoEarlier this month when I was researching an article about the profit-sharing distribution to United Airlines flight attendants, I noticed that the carrier was continuing to hire new cabin crew. I mentioned it here, and posted a link to the flight attendant careers page on the airline's website.

Then I began to hear a rumor that United had suspended recruitment of new flight attendants. The rumor caught me by surprise, so I decided to find out if it was true. I'm sorry to report that this is indeed the case, according to information published on the website run by the United Airlines Master Executive Council (MEC) of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing United's flight attendants.

News of the hiring freeze is contained in a letter to United's AFA membership from Greg Davidowitch, President of the United MEC. Dated March 18, 2008, the letter addresses plans by the carrier to downsize its fleet, and discusses the potential impact of this move on United's flight attendants. Quoting from Mr. Dawidowitch's letter:

Undoubtedly, there will be an impact on our flying as a result of potential staffing decisions and which markets United may cut as a result of the downsizing of the fleet. At this time we can confirm that based upon our discussions with management there are no plans for a furlough as a result of today's announcement. United will implement a hiring freeze for the newest Members of our Flight Attendant community for classes that were originally scheduled to begin after March 31, 2008. There are no plans to release Flight Attendants who are currently in new hire training and we look forward to welcoming our newest flying partners on the line.
I trust that Mr. Dawidowitch is in a position to know what he is talking about, so there you have it. Click here to read the letter in its entirety.