Last June, Dutch flag carrier KLM introduced a new service routine in its Economy cabin on most of its long-haul transcontinental flights. The redesigned service, which also featured new meals and additional offerings like ice-creams, sweets, and savoury snacks, was part of an important Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) deal it reached with cabin attendants earlier in 2018.
At the time, KLM was pretty clear that it was making the changes because of a wider cost-cutting plan – “The new collective labour agreement for our cabin crew includes a clause that one less crewmember will be assigned on many intercontinental flights,” the airline said. “Consequently, a more efficient Economy Class service is required.”
Essentially, KLM had managed to cut a member of cabin crew from its long-haul flights in order to save money but only after agreeing with a major cabin attendant union that the remaining crew would only have to serve a maximum of 52 passengers each.
The VNC union which represents 70% of cabin attendants at the airline overwhelmingly backed the proposed deal even though the rival FNV Cabine never supported the plan. In the end, KLM was able to introduce the CLA and service changes with the majority backing of the VNC.
“By better utilising the space on meal trays, trolleys can be stocked with more trays, ensuring that passengers are served more quickly,” explained a KLM spokesperson. Or that’s how it’s meant to work in theory.
The FNV Cabine union and its members aren’t quite convinced that is how the new service is working in the real world. In a memo sent to its members, the union called the so-called ‘-1 CA’ agreement and new service routine an “unclear, illogical and messy product.”
Rather than improving the passenger experience as KLM promised, the union says it has diminished the service it offers. Cabin attendants aren’t able to offer the drinks that passengers want causing crowding in the galley as passengers line up just to get a drink. At the same time, the service is no quicker than before because cabin attendants make up the service routine as they go.
Cabin crew say they feel less safe because of the lack of crew in the Economy cabin and many others are complaining of suffering bad backs from stretching to reach trays at the back of the trolley.
“This non-innovative collective labor agreement provides KLM with savings of 30 million euros per year. In our financial top years, this austerity is, in our view, a missed opportunity,” the union explains.
KLM is by no means the first airline to have reduced the number of onboard staff. It was only a few months ago that United Airlines came in for criticism when it announced plans to reduce the number of flight attendants in its long-haul Business class cabin. Again, the airline said that changes to its service routine would reduce the workload for remaining flight attendants while maintaining and perhaps even improving the passenger experience.
The CLA is set to be reviewed in June 2019 but it’s unlikely that either KLM or the larger VNC Union will voice any opposition.