We’ve dedicated a fair amount of coverage about the state of morale within the Emirates cabin crew community of late. The revelations and updates from within the airline has even led to our site being blocked by the UAE’s internet censors. Emirates finally looks like it plans to address rock-bottom morale but why did it get so bad in the first place?
Some of our readers who saw our original cabin crew exposé didn’t actually think conditions at the airline were that bad. They pointed out that unlike many other airlines, Emirates cabin crew benefited from free accommodation, generous ad diem allowances and medical coverage.
So why are flight attendants at the Dubai-based airline so unhappy? It’s more likely that a long series of changes and a toxic workplace culture have all added up to become greater than the sum of their parts. In fact, a relatively small policy change at Emirates is the one that seems to have enraged cabin crew the most.
That change was an amendment to Emirates’ policy of allowing cabin crew to bring alcohol and cigarettes into the country after a trip abroad. In a strictly Muslim country, alcohol isn’t easily bought – instead, expat residents have to obtain an expensive licence or go to one of the relatively few licensed premises in the city. As a result, alcohol is an expensive commodity.
But Dubai’s Duty-Free allowance for tourists and residents alike is actually quite generous and many cabin crew took advantage. That was until Emirates issued an instruction, informing cabin crew that the UAE’s customs authorities had imposed a ban on the practice.
Cabin crew immediately smelt a rat. If the instruction had come from customs, why weren’t their counterparts at Etihad Airways in neighbouring Abu Dhabi also subject to the ban? Why were cabin crew affected but tourists not? Why did the customs officers at Dubai airport seem unaware of the policy when questioned by curious staff?
A leaked memo from British Airways, confirmed the suspicions, saying the ban “is being applied only to crew employed by Emirates.”
Many Emirates employees had accepted their medical benefits being downgraded. They begrudgingly accepted the fact that they had to live in cheaper accommodation. And they accepted that compared to many airlines, they had to work harder and longer.
But growing mistrust led to widespread challenges to the alcohol ban. As a chorus of discord grew, the airline’s chief operations officer, Adel Al Redha, announced a change to the policy. Now, instead of an outright ban, cabin crew could now bring back alcohol and cigarettes but with taxes and fee’s imposed on any import.
The charges are significant – 50% of the retail price, a further 5% VAT and a 75AED “administration fee”. A source tells us they have spoken with customs officers who said: “this comes directly from Adel (Al Redha)”. They claim any money recovered from cabin crew is going back to Emirates – not to the Dubai government like originally claimed.
In effect, the accusation is that this is stealth tax against the airline’s own employees.
Other sources have come forward to tell us this is endemic of a culture where crew are treated “as a number on an accountants calculator.” They claim middle management are leaving in droves due to the pressure imposed on them.
Efforts to control cabin crew through threats no longer work – many crew no longer think they have anything to lose. The dream of living in cosmopolitan Dubai and travelling the world has faded away. The generous ad diem payments haven’t changed in years they say and besides, Emirates puts it cabin crew up in airport hotels – many miles away from the sights they long to see.
And once again, our sources warn of poor safety standards at the airline. One anonymous source told us: “Experienced pilots have all left, standards have been reduced and the pilots flying today lack experience demanded in the past.”
Issuing a stark warning the insider said:
“The overwhelming punitive culture rampant in the airline has had its effects on all operational grades. There have been many near misses and events that would have resulted in many deaths during the last few months.”
“Luck has saved EK so far, I for one am scared to fly with Emirates if only the public knew of the reality of the current internal state of affairs.”