Hero or criminal? There’s so much talk of disgruntled flight attendant Steven Slater, but what drove him out of the emergency exit?
Feeling the economic crunch, most airlines scaled back hours and pay for employees, leaving organizations like the Association of Flight Attendants to fight for better work environments. NewsFeed talks to AFA spokesperson Corey Caldwell for perspective on an industry that’s mostly overworked and underpaid.
Allie Townsend: From some accounts of the story we’ve heard, Steven Slater was physically hurt on the flight he was working before he quit. What kind of protection is there for flight attendants?
Corey Caldwell: Probably the best way to ensure that flight attendants are not injured by bags falling from overhead bins is for passengers to comply with fight attendant instructions. This situation was unfortunate and it was exasperated by a passenger who chose to ignore several [FAA] rules.
AT: What happens when passengers get out of hand?
CC: All flight attendants go through basic self-defense training. That is something that most flight attendants get, but AFA ensures that this is something that is enhanced because when a flight attendant is able to defend themselves against a physical attack, they’re able also to keep a situation from getting out of hand. Most of it is just on the job training. Flight attendants who have been on the line for 30 or 40 years are accustomed to dealing with passengers who don’t follow the rules.
AT: Could you talk a little about the stress that flight attendants face on the job?
CC: Flight attendants are working more now for less money due to recent concessions pretty much across the industry that took place because of bankruptcies and high oil prices. Professionally, there’s quite a lot of factors that increase stress levels. Not only are flight attendants having to deal with more and more stressors in the cabin, like the carry-on crunch that’s going on, in the summer time, you’ve got summer storm delays that add to the stress level. So, you’ve got a group of people who are working more for less, and they’re away from their families for more time. Unlike you and I, they don’t get to go home every night. They go and stay in hotels and it’s a different hotel each night. There are a lot of factors outside of the cabin that are stressful for flight attendants that passengers don’t see.
AT: What was a typical workload like ten years ago versus now?
CC: Flight attendants are paid per flight hour. The average flight attendant today is working 80 to 90 flight hours per month. Sometimes, even more, just depending on where they are. That does not mean 80 to 90 hours away from home. That means 80 to 90 hours in flight. That can mean anywhere from two weeks to a full month of working. Ten years ago, we saw the average of about 70 flight hours per month. We’ve worked very hard at AFA to ensure that our flight attendants have a contract that best protects their work life, that gives them ample time at home to have a family but also makes sure they have a stable income to provide for that family. And today, that work/home life has really diminished because flight attendants who took concessions in order for their airlines to emerge from bankruptcy are working more hours for less pay.
AT: What is the pay like now?
CC: The average flight attendant makes about $35,000 a year.
AT: Could you explain why Slater’s exit is grounds for his arrest?
CC: No. I can’t. I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that tampering with the emergency slide in a non-emergency situation could be dangerous.