We’ve known for several months that Emirates cabin crew working in the airline’s Economy cabin have been understaffed and overworked. Serving cabin crew for the airline have complained of heavy schedules and difficulty in getting annual leave approved.
With a recruitment freeze for new cabin crew at the Dubai-based airline nearly at the 12-month mark, we thought the situation in Economy would mean that recruitment would reopen really soon. Unfortunately, it looks like a new development might mean we couldn’t have been more wrong.
In a leaked internal memo, shared on social media and sent to the airline’s 23,000 flight attendants, one of the airline’s Cabin Crew Manager’s has announced plans to downgrade Business Class cabin crew into the Economy cabin. The idea is to backfill what she calls “some shortages amongst our Economy Cabin crew.”
To understand whats happening here, it’s important to know that Emirates operates a strict hierarchal structure for its cabin crew. A new recruit will start working in the Economy cabin and only moves up to Business and then First Class upon applying for the position. Once you’ve attained the upper grade – known as Grade 1 and FG1 – you shouldn’t ever have to work in Economy again.
It’s not known how long the downgrades will last
Or at least, that’s how it’s meant to work. Now, Emirates is saying there is a “small surplus of FG1/Grade 1 numbers” so cabin crew managers are going to downgrade “some” Business and First Class crew into the next lower cabin.
For now, the crew who are selected will have to work in the lower cabin for a month at a time and will be selected by the scheduling department. Emirates has given no indication of how long this might go on for.
Make no mistake – this is quite a significant development but it’s not without precedent. Over at Etihad Airways, the airline’s interim chief executive, Ray Gammel has said his airline will be “doing more with less” – that means trying to provide the same service with less staff.
Etihad has been doing”more with less”
Etihad abruptly cut short a cabin crew recruitment campaign after Gammel made his plans for the airline public. Etihad has said it will reduce its headcount even further through “natural wastage“. It looks like Emirates is going down the same route.
Interestingly, the naturally high attrition rate (the number of cabin crew leaving the airline) is still relatively high. This is fairly standard at most airline’s around the world but what’s interesting is the complete block on new cabin crew recruitment. We recently heard updated rumours that Emirates planned to restart ab initio cabin crew courses in April 2018 – we don’t know if this latest development might push back those plans even further.
Some Emirates Economy Class cabin crew have been in the same role for over three years
Emirates has told its serving cabin crew that this will be “a good chance to share your experience and skills with newer crew and to be a role model of the professionalism we display in the Business Class Cabin.” But that being said, the minimum level of experience in Economy is now at least 12-months and many crew have worked in the same cabin for over three years.
Whether Plett is trying to insinuate that service standards in Emirates Economy have started to fall is not known. We’ve reached out to Emirates for a comment on this story but have not yet received a response.