Out of all the airline customer service careers, flight attendants boast a kind of iconic status. Movies, television shows, novels – stories about the sophistication and glamour of elite air travel have always sparked interest. And the flight attendant is an extension of this image, representing not only the perks of international jet-setting, but also the advances of modern technology.
However, in order to become a flight attendant, one needs more than elegance and poise. The job requires a complex set of skills: impeccable customer service, perhaps a couple of additional languages, attention to details, and above all else – calm in the face of crisis.
And it’s the safety issue that has sparked controversy when Transport Canada recently proposed reducing the number of flight attendants on Canadian airplanes.
More passengers per attendant
Under the proposed new legislation, airlines would only be required to supply one flight attendant per 50 passengers. That’s a bump from the previous ratio of 40:1. If the new law passes, commercial airlines will have the option of implementing the 50:1 alternative, regardless of whether or not all of those 50 seats are filled.
Transport Canada says it is following an already established international standard – both the US and Germany follow the 50:1 staffing guideline, and several Canadian airlines are requesting it here at home.
Union says changes compromise safety
The airline division of CUPE, which represents about 10,000 flight attendants, says the new staffing rule puts passengers at risk. They maintain that fewer attendants equals compromised security, particularly in emergency situations. They question how an already reduced crew could cope if one of the flight attendants was injured during an evacuation or other high-risk event.
Flight attendants resist the change
Both seasoned professionals and recent flight attendant school grads agree that their job is complex, and that a staffing reduction compromises their ability to do it well. Attendants are responsible for more than serving snacks and pointing out exits. They are trained in – and may be called upon – to deliver babies, administer CPR, calm unruly passengers, lead emergency procedures, and a host of other in-flight duties. Increasing the passenger-attendant ratio to 50:1 stretches available resources to the breaking point, and may leave unacceptable gaps in essential services.
Passengers left unprotected
Transport Canada maintains it has studied the safety question in detail, and feels certain that the new ratio will not impact passenger security; however, CUPE points out that the proposed staffing changes will certainly leave some emergency exists unmanned. Particularly on narrower planes like the airbus, flight attendants would need special training to cover two exits. And although the union acknowledges that crises don’t happen very often, proper preparation is essential as a passenger life-insurance policy.
Do you think the change in passenger-attendant ratio will substantially impact air flight service and safety?