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Aviation's Future - Fair or Unfair? Job Cuts and Pay Rates

The furore over possible job losses at British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and other airlines rumbles on.

Whatever the end result, the airline industry worldwide is not going to be the same as it was when the crisis over Covid-19 began.

The Aviation Oracle looks at airline employees other than pilots regarding the question of company loyalty and pay rates.

Above: one of British Airways' Boeing 777s (Kevan James).

Thirty years ago, the airline industry was a pleasant place to work. Salaries, terms and conditions were good – not exceptional, but good enough for most to enjoy a reasonable standard of living. I used to travel to Glasgow each week, and for the £425 round trip fare (take it or leave it) I would be served a hot breakfast on Monday morning, and afternoon tea with tea or coffee on the way back along with alcoholic beverages if I wished.

Things started to change when easyJet, then Go Fly and Ryanair, came onto the scene. The budget carriers offered travel at a fraction of the costs charged by legacy airlines and an inevitable swing started to take place as once loyal and well-paying customers moved their business to the airlines that demanded less money for a seat on their aircraft.

Here’s the thing though. Fundamentally a Boeing 737 costs a budget airline just as much to fly from A to B as it costs a full-service airline to do the same. Sure, the low-fare airlines sweat their assets and get more flying done as a result, but the fuel and the maintenance and the navigation fees are the same. Budget airlines are able to make money while charging low fares for two primary reasons. Firstly they use their assets (the aircraft and their staff) more efficiently – they wring more work, more flying, out of them. And secondly, wherever they can, they pay their staff less – and the terms and conditions are not as good. What were reasonably good jobs – ticket desk and check-in agents, baggage loaders, even cabin crew – were moved towards minimum wage and zero or limited hour contracts, with some of these jobs on the ground at airports farmed out to companies separate from the airline itself. As a result of the £50 round trips, the airline industry became a less pleasant place to work.