James Asquith argues that flight attendants are significantly underpaid. I want to try out a very unpopular argument: that airlines pay too much for the flight attendants they’re hiring today, but that they should be paying more to attract flight attendants who will provide better service.
Asquith makes some bizarre claims, such as “United have entered into chapter 11 bankruptcy on more than one occasion” and that the bankruptcy was contrived in order to ditch employee pensions (the bankruptcy was real). However his core contention appears to be:
- They respond to emergencies like the Ural Airlines Airbus A321 landing in a field after a double bird strike
- They bear the brunt of passenger frustrations and poor passenger behavior. Gate agents do too of course.
- They work harder than they used to. And airlines have reduced flight attendant staffing, often down to what’s legally required. United got rid of a flight attendant in business class and went with pre-plated food to save work, American introduced premium economy increasing work required without increasing staffing. (At the same time service levels on flights aren’t as high as they once were, reducing work load.)
Being a flight attendant can be a tough job. It’s hardly the toughest, dirtiest, most disgusting job (though sometimes it seems that way) and it’s one voluntarily undertaken in exchange for a wage and travel benefits. U.S. flight attendants aren’t generally cleaning up lavatories several times per flight the way their Asian counterparts often do.
And many flight attendants don’t look up from their phones or take their nose out of People magazine.
More importantly people are lining up to become flight attendants – with current job duties and current rates of pay. That suggests that flight attendant pay is not too low at all not even close.
If an airline is happy with the talent pool they’re choosing from and believes they get to be even more picky than necessary that would suggest pay is too high.
On the other hand perhaps flight attendants should be paid more, if an airline wants to develop a competitive advantage with better service. That would mean, however, either:
- Changes to work rules, that allow the airline to incentivize service or
- Paying more money to attract different people that would provide better service
In all likelihood it mean would mean a combination of both. Airlines offering higher pay wouldn’t just mean giving more money to the people they currently have on staff, it would mean higher pay in order to attract different people with a different skill set.