CBC is reporting that the Supreme Court has give the Canadian human rights commission approval to investigate whether flight attendants should be paid the same as pilots and airline mechanics.
No, they shouldn't be.
I don't mean any disrespect to the flight attendants. They do a superb job of delivering safety information to rude, demanding passengers who think they are present to be cocktail waitresses and inflight entertainment. Yes, they are in the same workplace, with the same ultimate goal of getting the passengers safely and comfortably to their destination in a timely manner. And if the pilots or maintenance personnel mess up badly enough, the flight attendants take the same risks as the pilots. But the training, duties and responsibilities do not equate: they should not receive the same pay as pilots.
At some companies, you can get a job as a flight attendant by showing up to an information session. Before applying, some companies require you to complete a basic online training course, costs starting at $139.95. That's about equal to the cost of your first hour of training to learn how to fly, and less than half of one percent of the cost of obtaining the qualifications that will make you a barely-employable 200-hour wonder. I'm not sure how long the course would take, but I imagine you could do it in a week. Certainly not more than a month.
I literally laughed aloud when I flipped through the sample course material on the above course site. Did you know climate affects how people dress and how well crops grow, and that it should be taken into consideration when you pack your travel bag for a flight? Check out the sample exam question:
Which phonetic letter is not correct?
A - Alpha
G - Gulf
E - Echo
There are actually two wrong answers there, but one wouldn't be noticed on the radio.
I'm going to assume that most flight attendant candidates find much of the material laughably easy, too, but apparently this pre-qualification course was introduced to cut down on the failure rate of new hires.
Once hired as a flight attendant, the company gives you, and pays for, proper training. You might start your first flight attendant job at a major carrier. You won't spend your first five years deicing, loading cargo and washing airplanes as well as giving passenger briefings and telling people to please put their damn seatbelts back on. You need to stay healthy, but your entire career doesn't derail if your eyesight deteriorates a little.
Flight attendants do not have the same level of responsibility as the pilots. Yes, a flight attendant could cause serious injury to a passenger by not correctly securing a food cart. Yes, a flight attendant can save a passenger's life by noticing and correcting the fact that the idiot hasn't done up his seatbelt in response to the illuminated sign. The FAs are open to more risk from crazy passengers than the pilots are. The pilot in command is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the flight. That's his job. He is the boss. If the flight attendants have a problem, they come forward and report it to the pilots. The pilots make the decision whether to continue or divert in response to the passenger problem.
I know pilots who have worked as flight attendants in order to get contacts and earn money to enhance their pilot qualifications. I even know of an airline in the UK that hired pilots a little in advance of their need for pilots, and had them work as flight attendants for a few months, before putting them on line. Anyone want to try that the other way around? I've never met a pilot who said he or she was working as a pilot to try to make it as a flight attendant.
If you compared the duties of the flight attendants and the pilots during a typical flight, you'd see everyone together for a preflight briefing, and both pilots and flight attendants check that everything was in readiness. The pilots do more math than the flight attendants during this process. The FAs do more physical activity. Then the FAs ensure all the cabin baggage and passengers are secure, and give a safety briefing. Then the pilots push some buttons, move some levers and talk on the radio a bit. In cruise, the pilots sit around, talk on the radio, watch the gauges, and consider what could go wrong and what they'd do about it. Decisions about asking for a re-route or another altitude cost or save the airline more money than decisions the FAs are making.
Maintenance have huge responsibility. Their initial training is less than two years, but they undergo a long apprenticeship and then write more exams. They literally have to know how to take an airplane apart and put it back together. And they have to get it right every time. I'm responsible for the safety of one airplane at a time, and once it's parked and shut down, my responsibility ends. Every airplane a mechanic has ever touched remains her responsibility until the inspection she did expires, or the part is replaced again, or possibly for the life of the aircraft, depending on the work done. The mechanics I know take this responsibility very seriously. When rumours of an accident surface, the pilot wants to know that it's not her company or someone she knows. The AME wants to know the same, plus that it isn't an aircraft she ever maintained.
While FAs and pilots share a workplace and share the risks of something going wrong in that workplace, the pilots have far higher training costs, far higher responsibilities in terms of the financial and human costs of their decisions, and are literally ranked above the flight attendants in the chain of command on board the aircraft. I hope the Supreme Court figures this out. And if they don't, will the flight attendants will be happy to see pilot pay cut down to match theirs?