BA and Norwegian Air Shuttle cut costs, but at what price for flight attendants? (www.theguardian.com)

March 7, 2014

International Labor Organisation estimates aviation sector has a 0.1% profit margin. With world’s airlines eager to cut crew costs – is life as a flight attendant getting worse?

As a British Airways flight attendant with a quarter-century of service, John (not his real name) has a regular schedule. He can decide the type of flights he wants to work on: he’s opted for the short-haul fleet. He can decide when he wants to be on holidays. “I’d love to stay until I’m 60,” he says.

But during John’s career with BA, flight attendants’ working conditions have worsened. “Our basic salaries and allowances have stayed the same, but our hours have increased and there’s less time between flights,” he says. “Every year it gets a bit tighter.”

Low-cost carriers are setting the trend. One of them, Norwegian Air Shuttle, plans to use cheaper US-based flight attendants rather than Norwegian ones for its new transatlantic flights. “We are concerned that Norwegian’s announcement to hire US-based flight attendants to staff international flights undercuts labour laws, paying outsourced workers a fraction of what Norwegian flight attendants earn,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) said in a statement.

Since its long-haul operations are based in Ireland, Norwegian can bypass its home country’s strict labour laws. “Ireland was not chosen because the country has specific rules and regulations that allow the use of American or Asian crew, like some politicians and unions have claimed,” Norwegian spokesman Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen says. “Norwegian could have based its long-haul company in any other European country and still used American and Asian crew, the way several other European airlines have been doing for years. The only exception is Norway and partly Denmark, who so far have opted to keep outdated special rules within this area.”

Norwegian already employs a Thailand-based crew. Ryanair, Europe’s most profitable airline, classifies its crew as working in Ireland because they fly on Ireland-registered aircraft, even though they live in several dozen Ryanair base cities around Europe. The practice lowers the carrier’s labour costs.

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