Friday, January 27, 2006

Pay Equity

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?
Z- Zebra
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?


Anonymous said...

Don't sugar coat it what do you really mean?
As a husband of a flight attendant and someone who's been in the aviation industry for the last 18 years, albeit as an airport guy, I feel that I can confidently say "I know what you're saying". Even my wife who's been a F/A for 20 years for overseas operators and is currently on her 3rd Canadian operator doesn't subscribe to the pay equity issue you've raised.

Training standards, as I've observed, seemed to differ widely between the operators that she's worked for but she's always maintained the same work ethic irrespective and has strived for the highest standard which she personally adopted from one particular operator who went under shortly after 911.

She, who scores 100% 100% of the time on her recurrent training exams, which usually last 3 days, is tested on the most obscure detail involving the cabin and its contents (fire, decompression, unruley pax, land and water evacuation, survival techniques both after a crash and in the cabin (if you know what I mean)), who has been punched in the face, thrown up on, endured the trash that only midseason sales tend to bring out, kicked, verbally abused and suffers continuous scheduling abuse due to her junior status still enjoys her work.

Does she think that she should be payed the same as pilots absoultely not. Do I? No but sometimes I think she deserves at least a days worth of pay equity.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Z is "Zulu". And, "G" is technically "golf" as stated by the previous "Anonymous."

Super blog. You're a great writer.

Anonymous said...

I cant even believe they'd even consider doing that investigation. Flight Attendents must be jumping six feet in the air, and now Im wondering whether I really should go ahead with the pilot plan or head on over to flight attendent school

Anonymous said...

Yay! You should have been a lawyer

Aviatrix said...

And it just occurs to me that while pilots on small aircraft perform all the duties of a flight attendant (boarding assistance, cabin baggage security, passenger briefings, in-flight service (if there's two pilots, one leaves his seat to pass around soft drinks and sandwiches), assistance with emergency egress, cleaning puke), once we graduate to larger aircraft and lose those duties to the real flight attendants, pilot pay goes up.

Anonymous said...

So, should a court stenographer get paid the same as a judge?

Anonymous said...

Office and management staff in UK prisons have today won £50M / $102M Canadian in back pay plus increased salaries to make them equal to prison officers.

Anonymous said... check that out - its a posting on about the FA's. Someone posted your link on our site - i just thought you might want to comment on there as well...

Anonymous said...

Having just finished PC and sexual harrasment training during my annual ground school requirements, I would say, "Why not pay a flight attendant pilot's pay?" This would certainly help the F/A's personal esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Yellowbird said...

If the FA union gets its way, how does a cash strapped airline deal with the requirement to pay FA's and pilots the same? Surely, they'll swallow the much higher payroll expense and up the FA pay to match the pilots, right? They'd never consider lowering pilot pay to match the FA scale. That would so wonders for the working relationships between FA's and pilots...

Anonymous said...

There is some additional background on the history of the claim at the following websites:

Anonymous said...

My apologies to all who consider their jobs to the most important to the operation of the airline, but:

If all the waste tanks are full they must be emptied before the aircraft can leave. So, would this not make the people who drain the waste tanks the most important?

Anonymous said...

No one in their right mind would expect a flight attendant to be paid the same as a pilot. However they may be able to prove that the flight attendant group has been underpaid over the years due to the fact we have a predominantly female work force thereby qualifying us for some sort of compensation. As a flight attendant I do believe we have lost a lot in negotiations due to the fact that our union representatives come from this mainly female work group and are at a distinct disadvantage because of it.

Anonymous said...

I also notice that when comparing to maintenance techs they ignore the long training time, the long OJT time, the per diem that F/A (and pilots) receive, the responsibility differences on peoples lives.

Anonymous said...

NO F/A's should NOT get paid as much as pilots do. C'mon guys, you know how many F/A's out there are just working to get to travel? That's so stupid, getting a job just for the "free benefits". Also, F/A's need to put themselves in place. Yeah you might deal with annoying, rude and all the crazy whatnot paxs out there and things of the sort but put it this way- if Pilots didn't fly planes, you wouldn't have a job. Pilots will ALWAYS have jobs and you know why? Because cargo airplanes also need to be flown. And you damn right don't need no F/A's on cargo planes. Don't get me wrong, I'm about to be a flight attendant (just got hired) but my ultimate goal is to be a pilot and I know that the pay I will be getting as a F/A is the right amount for my job duties and when I make it to become a pilot, that's when the pay is also going to be right (more pay that is) because of my more demanding and more qualified title. Remember, anyone can get hired as a flight attendant. Pilots are either military trained pilots (trained by the best in the world, USA) or they go to school (yes, you need a 4 year college degree to be a pilot unlike flight attendant where you only need a h.s diploma and some college is a plus but NOT expected) AND you need like 6 licenses and a big amount of flight hours. So next time you're complaining why you don't get paid as much as a pilot does, think about these things and if you want to get paid that much maybe you should go to school or start taking flying lessons and see how it is and take it from there.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, FA training is approx 6 weeks.

This compared to YEARS for a pilot and YEARS for a technician. While FAs do lots, their responsibility is no where near that of a tech or pilot.