I‘ve worked as a cabin crew for six years, and I’ve never been so exhausted. I’m not the type of person who usually suffers from fatigue, but the crew faces catastrophic and sustained levels of understaffing. Despite what you might hear about the travel chaos faced by hard-working families who just want to get away for a well-deserved midterm break, being asked to travel alone with carry-on luggage to try to Mitigating huge delays and cancellations, the pandemonium at UK airports isn’t just affecting passengers.
Crew members are flying more than ever. Our hours are longer, our schedule more grueling, and our wages derisory. Working for the airlines was synonymous with luxury and glamour. Now, many of us can’t even afford to live near airports, so we drive for hours to get home from long-haul flights with a dangerously short sleep. Crew members are so tired they have accidents – closed social media groups are full of tips for staying awake behind the wheel.
This level of fatigue is only sustainable for so long. Days and days of early morning departures followed by long-haul flights wear you out, so the crew calls in sick. There is a lot of bitterness and anger towards the airlines, which have used the Covid lockdowns as an excuse to lay off so many of us. Bosses have offered us lump sums of cash to recommend new staff – and we’ve heard of airlines throwing leaflets through doors to try and entice anyone and everyone to apply for jobs. vacant jobs. But it’s proving so difficult to get people to fill the jobs that our union told us our airline was considering raising pay for new hires – which is a huge slap in the face for the rest of us. We are talking about a strike.
We are used to dealing with difficult passengers, but the chaos of travel has an unpleasant side effect. Customers are always more aggressive if they’re having a hard time at the airport, and as cabin crew, you’re the next uniformed person they see. Recently on a flight a man chased me screaming into the galley after the captain announced that delays would mean some passengers would miss their connecting flights.
Pressures on travel agencies may have worsened after the pandemic, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for airlines. Government closures have been tough on the travel industry, but look how we’ve bounced back. Environmentalists might think people will start flying less to fight the climate crisis, but in truth people are desperate to escape their problems and take a little vacation. The current boom in demand proves it. Airline bosses were openly angry when Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said they needed to stop overselling flights and holidays they wouldn’t be able to deliver, saying they had no not received enough help to recover from the pandemic. But from where I’m standing, I don’t see how this travel chaos is anyone’s fault but the airlines – when people line up to spend their money, but they don’t have not the product to meet this demand.
Brexit was certainly an obstacle to filling staffing shortages – many crew members were from Europe. But the real obstacle to hiring is that many people don’t want to work for the pittance the airlines offer. The days of the six-figure legacy crew are long gone. There is a feeling among current employees that the pandemic was a convenient excuse to oust the last senior members on expensive contracts. My colleagues are angry, especially at the idea that new recruits can earn more money. The incitement to board other people has also pissed people off. We wonder, if they have all this money lying around, why can’t they pay us more?
After the pandemic, there has been a change in the way we view work, people are more demanding about the type of jobs they are willing to accept and at what price. But it’s not just a question of money. The working conditions you will face are no longer a secret. People want more out of life.