The Vital Role of Cabin Crew: Reflections from the Haneda Airport Incident

January 23, 2024

The Haneda Airport Incident
On January 2, 2024, a tragic accident at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport involving a Japan Airlines and a Coast Guard aircraft underscored the critical role of cabin crew in ensuring passenger safety. Despite the severity of the collision and the ensuing fire, all 379 passengers on the Japan Airlines plane were safely evacuated, a testament to the flight crew’s professionalism. Sadly, the incident resulted in the loss of five crew members from the smaller aircraft.

Daily Challenges
This is not an isolated incident. Cabin crew around the world ensure passenger safety on every flight- from enforcing seatbelt usage, to dealing with disruptive passengers, health incidents onboard, securing the cabin in the event of turbulence, among others. They do this while facing many challenges and risks every day– dealing with violence and harassment from passengers, working long hours, jet lag, exposure to cosmic radiation, and fatigue.

Extensive Training & Preparedness
A recent CNN news story by Francesca Street reported that cabin crew undergo rigorous training to prepare for various emergency scenarios, including fires, evacuations, medical incidents, and security breaches. They also learn to use different equipment types, such as oxygen masks, fire extinguishers, and emergency slides. While trained to follow strict procedures and protocols, they are also equipped to improvise and adapt to changing situations.

A Changing Industry
Kris Major, a British crew member with over 20 years of experience, and the ITF’s representative at the ICAO Cabin Safety Group gave his opinions from his extensive experiences throughout his career. Major’s insights reveal the evolving difficulties and transformations in the aviation industry emphasising the need for better working conditions for cabin crew. Cabin crew must be recognised as firstly, and primarily, a safety role.

However, the industry has been moving in the opposite direction, adopting business models that prioritize low fares over customer service, and that erode the terms and conditions of aviation workers to the minimum safety standards. With maximum weekly working hours of twenty-two-and-a-half-hours more than that of ordinary workers on thirty-seven and a half, fatigue is an increasing risk to the industry.

“There aren’t many industries where you go to work in the morning and spend 15 minutes talking about how on earth, you’ll save everybody’s lives and your own.”

Immediately after the accident, Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary, sent letters to Japanese aviation affiliates of the ITF expressing solidarity with the Japanese crew. The ITF advocates for the well-being and safety professional role of cabin crew worldwide by promoting international cooperation and standards to enhance aviation safety, highlighted every year on International Cabin Crew Day – May 31. The Federation firmly believes that cabin crew deserve respect and recognition for their vital role in ensuring the safety of every traveller.

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