"...As reliable as the entire civil fleet." This line from a song of the Soviet-era bard Vladimir Vysotsky refers to flight attendants, their conspicuous professional politeness and readiness to fulfill any whim of passengers. Do we often reflect on how difficult this apparent effortlessness is?
"...Once upon a time, I wanted to be a queen of the sky. Like in the commercials: a young, charming, and slim lady with a captivating smile, wearing a glamorous uniform. Alas, everything turned out to be much more down-to-earth..."
"What kind of romantic appeal are you talking about? Don't be absurd! It is the service industry – and nothing more. I also used to dream of becoming a flight attendant, but when I began to fly often, I became disillusioned. It is a hard, very hard job. You don’t have to aspire to be a flight attendant at all for this money. To travel to different parts of the world, you can easily earn enough “on the ground”..."
This is just a part of what a wek.ru correspondent heard at the recent forum of representatives of this profession, held by the Aviation Workers Union of Russia. They talked about the work and rest schedules and the fact that many airlines had adopted non-transparent decision-making policies with respect to flight attendants, to put it mildly. The members of the trade union of Russian cabin crews who gathered in Moscow wanted to solve these and other pressing issues with the help of the dedicated trade union, Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) officials, and economists.
They spoke in unison about their profession’s losing prestige. There is a constant outflow of specialists so airlines will find themselves severely understaffed in the near future.
“We work in five regions of Russia,” said Valery Merkulov, deputy chairman of the Red Wings airline trade union. “Of course, we can’t but notice the falling prestige of the flight attendant profession.”
Wage indexation is one of the key drivers to reverse the situation but the airlines’ opportunities are limited given the COVID-19 pandemic.”
However, solutions can be found. For example, Yakutia Airlines Deputy Head of Flight Attendant Service Elena Zimina said that the company administration, having calculated the costs of impending employment problems and attracting new staff, decided to index the salaries of flight attendants.
As for the wage claims, they are quite reasonable. A flight attendant's workday begins when she arrives at her office, and depends on the departure schedule. Their contracts state that the workdays may fall on weekends or public holidays. Due to bad weather, flight attendants sometimes spend a long time at an airport. They stay at a smoky hotel, eating dry rations, cursing the weather and wishing for a clear sky.
Following is the monitoring survey data on average flight attendant salaries.
In 2016 - 2019, the salary of ordinary flight attendants started from 35,000 rubles ($478.45,) while a manager’s salary was indexed: it was up to 92,000 rubles ($1,257.64,) in 2016, 95,000 rubles ($1,298.6) in 2017, 102,000 rubles ($1,394.34) in 2018 and up to 115,000 rubles ($1,572.05) in 2019.
Last year doesn’t count. The pandemic stopped the flights putting airline owners on the brink of survival with monthly pays to employees occasionally not exceeding 5,000 rubles ($68.35.).
There’s more to it. How can you keep your job when there are also problems at home?
Flight attendant Evelina B. has a five-year-old daughter. "What kind of mother am I if I barely see her? I feel tired almost all the time. My husband often meets me in a gloomy mood. He says that I am the mistress in the sky but at home..."
“Evelina has problems with her daughter,” says Lena K. “And as for me... “
She begins to talk about the most painful and intimate things. One can feel real pain and human suffering in her trembling voice, cast-down eyes, and the fact that she decided to tell her story to a stranger.
“My husband and I really wanted to have a baby. Unfortunately, it didn't work out,” she said. “I’m 25, and I have already had three miscarriages. Doctors blamed the internal changes caused by working conditions. This is how my body reacts to constant takeoffs and landings. Apparently, I will have to say goodbye to my profession.”
This is the flip side of the coin. In addition to purely gynecological diseases, female flight attendants often have chronic gastritis, venous diseases and colds.
Falling ill before a return flight is easy if you stay overnight in a draughty room of an obsolete Soviet-era health center when the temperature outside is zero degrees. Doctors really care about why this or that flight attendant has three or four sick leaves a year. They explain it as best as they can. Medics are sometimes very thorough. They suspect the work-happy flight attendants of trying to hide their illnesses by all means. Those who fail medical checks beg doctors to allow them to fly.
There was a discussion at the forum about professional traditions’ falling into oblivion. In the USSR, flight crews literally competed in the ability to most successfully organize the initiation of flight attendants. According to organizers, the initiation would be remembered as a most important life event. It helped young people, just out of school, to develop respect for their future work and the wish to maintain the prestige of the job they had been offered. Alas, this glorious tradition is not supported everywhere today.
"Of course, a lot depends on union leaders’ establishing business relations with the management," said Valery Selitrinnikov, chairman of the All-Russian Trade Union of Aviation Workers. “There will always be claims to managers. However, it turns out that they can be resolved, as at Yakutia Airlines. For example, we should restore hazard pay to flight attendants and the benefits they were entitled to, including a decent retirement benefit. The most important thing is salary which differs from airline to airline and affects motivation. It is time to bring the trilateral commission into this process. The government, the trade union, and the employer can together agree the standards that will satisfy everyone.”
When this article was going to print, I read that Aeroflot had deleted the comments on its Instagram post about low wages of flight attendants, snitching on colleagues, fines, forced side jobs, call-center problems, unbearable conditions, and lack of “perks.” Life is more prosaic than we are led to believe.
The airline announced the opening of new flight attendant vacancies. The post, with photos of stewardesses and stewards from the Aeroflot pool taken in Seychelles, was published on social media. Aeroflot promised successful candidates a stable salary and benefits, including discounted and free tickets, which, according to the company’s sources, are not available to women who have gone on maternity leave or their relatives.