Over the past week we have seen a continuation of cuts at airlines, including Canada’s own flagship, Air Canada. Many of these were directed at flight attendents across the country, with fatal cuts to those stationed in Winnipeg.
There is a proud history attached to the role of flight attendent. Before it was decided that identification of the job with the name Stewardess should be dumped on the garbage heap of history, came decades of quality service by highly qualified personel.
In the early days of consumer aviation and through all those decades, one had to come to the job with the designation of Registered Nurse attached to your resume. It was an epoch of consumer confidence that comes with the kind of service that is inherent in the nature of so many of those who chose the nursing profession; that of putting others first in a genuine desire to provide care and comfort.
But the word Stewardess obviously implied female, and it seemed that the male Stewards were management while the Stewardesses, mostly female, seemed to report to the guy in the tie. And more males were applying to become Stewardesses as criteria evolved. So flight attendant emerged as the new nomer.
And there were lots of them on each flight. In a long era of service imperatives, airlines strove to outdo each other in how far they could go to provide in-flight comfort and care. But somewhere along the way that changed. And it was long before the oil crisis.
Profitablility, management surmised, could be increased by cutting many of those high paid hostesses out of the loop while still providing a satisfactory level of service to the lower class fare customers, while keeping the levels up for the cash cows seated in the business and first class sections.
With this latest round of service cuts we wonder if the day of the flight attendant, as we know it, is gone forever. The meals left quite some time ago, the blankets and pillows were removed a short while ago, and now even peanuts and pretzels are on their way out.
So what’s a self respecting flight attendant to do? What is the value? There is now, and will always be, a need to keep passengers calm in case of an emergency to hopefully selflessly help them in a time of crisis.
But the high pay that is deserved for those who deliver a quality service may be left only for those in the forward cabin. And even those customers are shrinking as their companies insist they also look at low cost carriers for their business trips.
If you can get an airline executive to be honest with you they will tell you that most of the people who are sitting in business class today have not actually paid the tariff for being there. They are mostly frequent flyers whose frequent flyer status shows up on front desk computers as they are checking in. They come with upgrade passes earned by their status, or are just placed up front because of that designation.
That distiction earns them the exclusive doting of the last remaining, truly high service, flight attendant care.
So why pay the high wages for a job description that has long gone by the wayside and has been more permanently mangled over the past months?
Nothwithstanding the current job cuts, the next round of negotiations with the bosses will not be pleasant for them. The results I fear will lead to an era of applications from those who still hold on to a perception of what the position was. But as each month passes applicants will realize that the role has been marginalized to that of a car hop in the sky. The quality of those applicants will deteriorate along with the even greater deterioration of what was once proudly called in-flight service.