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U.S. flight attendant morale ‘in the toilet’

Imagine getting paid less than $20,000 per year for a job that requires you to work 14-hour days, often with few or no breaks, while your bosses enjoy handsome profits. Welcome to life as a flight attendant for a U.S. airline.

Earlier this week, a Reuters article underscored just how bad things have gotten for flight attendants as their employers slash pay and benefits and force them to work more hours in order recover from financial woes.

Flight attendants, who earn between $19,200 and $33,800 annually, have had their salaries cut by as much as 30 percent while working longer days on packed flights with reduced support crews. Attendants only get paid from the time a plane leaves the gate, meaning they get nothing while sitting at a terminal because of a delay. And, because planes are now flying so full and there’s often little time between flights, the crew doesn’t have a chance to get off the plane to get something to eat or stretch their legs.

Further, writes reporter Chris Reiter, “Many flight attendants have made personal sacrifices—such as selling cars, pulling kids from dance classes, and taking on second jobs—in order to help keep their employers flying after the September 11, 2001, attacks sent the airline industry into a tailspin.”

“Morale is in the toilet,” US Airway flight attendant Alin Boswell told Reiter. That flight attendants have seen no improvements despite company’s recent profits is a further blow, said another interviewee, United flight attendant Sara Nelson: “People are very, very upset . . . they were stretched to the end before, but at least there was a promise of something better. Now when that hasn’t been returned, it’s as if the rubber band was broken.”

When you read the details it’s easy to understand why many passengers have suffered exceptionally poor customer service lately. Airline staff members calling in sick or taking leaves of absences to avoid job stress is also likely a contributing factor to this summer’s rash of flight cancellations.

The airlines have us all over a barrel. It’s hard to imagine another industry getting away with this, yet the government continues to bail out the airlines after each failure. Why? Because travel has become integral to our lives and our economy. Before any major changes can occur, both the government and travelers will have to hold the airlines accountable.

Airline CEOs, it seems, just don’t care.

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