They say that in the aviation industry no one day is ever the same and for cabin crew, flexibility and a willingness to adapt to last-minute changes is a pre-requisite. Flight attendants generally work a flexible roster and are often given less than a month’s notice of what day’s they’ll be working and what flights they’ll be operating.
Even those plans can change at the airline’s discretion due to mysterious “operational reasons”.
That’s an arrangement that cabin crew at pan-Scandinavian airline SAS say needs to change and flight attendant unions have raised the possibility of crippling strike action if their demands aren’t met. Negotiations are set to formally begin next month but a warning of April walkouts have already been issued.
At present, SAS cabin crew receive their roster for the next month just 15 days before the start of the month. Each month, the number of hours they work, what day’s they work and the number of day’s off are different from the last. It’s a fairly standard practice which is accepted by the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) but employee representatives say the current system puts too much of a burden on cabin crew.
Instead, the majority of SAS flight attendants would like a more permanent schedule to give them a greater work/life balance and allow them to make personal plans in advance. With the current system, flight attendants are said to be working three out of four weekends but SAS likes the status quo because it offers greater flexibility and keeps costs low.
In April 2019, SAS was forced to ground over 4,000 flights when pilots at the airline staged a near week-long strike in a similar dispute. More than 300,000 passengers were impacted by the walkout as pilots demanded the opportunity to work to a fixed roster schedule. SAS said such a system would be too expensive but eventually relented and gave into the pilot’s demands.
“The willingness to fight (for better work schedules and pay) is strong,” explained Martinus Røkkum, leader of Norwegian union SAS Norge Kabinforening. “We’re paying attention to what the pilots experienced during their negotiations last year, and hope for a good result,” he continued.
“Our workdays now are highly unpredictable and we want to to be part of influencing when we can have time off to a greater degree.”
A spokesperson for SAS said the airline was still drafting its proposals for a new cabin crew contract and that negotiations will kick off in Denmark in February. Talks for cabin crew based in Norway and Sweden will start later.