Some British cabin crew are so inexperienced that they don’t even know how to turn the lights on in an aircraft cabin, a concerned member of airline staff reported to an independent safety charity that monitors so-called ‘human factors’ safety issues in the aviation industry.
During a recent incident at an unnamed British airline, a recently hired member of cabin crew was allegedly unable to perform the simple task of turning on the cabin lights and another member of crew had to abandon a sick passenger in order to help the new hire flight attendant.
Members of the ‘Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme’ or CHIRP for short have called on airlines to provide more training on relatively simple tasks on routinely used equipment. CHIRP reports directly to Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which has the power to change airline training programmes.
After slashing cabin crew numbers through the pandemic, airlines around the world have raced to hire back depleted workforces after travel restrictions were lifted and demand bounced back.
It’s been no secret that several British airlines have struggled to recruit cabin crew and other critical workers back fast enough.
At one point, British Airways was offering a sign-on bonus of £1,000 for cabin crew and the airline recently revealed that it hired around 1,400 new staff in just three months as it tries to quickly bolster its workforce.
In the incident investigated by CHIRP, three crew members on the same flight had “limited” experience and a fourth had only just come out of training. As the plane was taxiing for departure, a passenger fell ill and the senior crew member went into the darkened cabin to attend to them, leaving a single inexperienced flight attendant at the front of the aircraft.
That crew member was asked to turn on the cabin lights but they were unable to locate where the switch was. In the end, the senior crew member had to abandon the sick passenger in order to switch on the lights.
In response to CHRIP’s investigation, the unnamed airline insisted that new hire flight attendants received training on how to turn on cabin lights but that the system is normally used by managers, so it’s possible that inexperienced crew had little practice using the system.
In a follow-up report, CHIRP said some airlines operate aircraft that “vary massively” and have lots of different control panels. However, it was the responsibility of individual crew members to familiarise themselves with different aircraft, the report concluded.
In addition to inexperienced crew, the UK’s largest union also claims that exhausted airline workers are potentially putting passenger safety in jeopardy.
Last month, the Unite union claimed cabin crew were occasionally being ordered to work beyond mandatory ‘flight time limitations’ that are designed to reduce the risk of aircrew becoming fatigued. Studies have found that fatigue is one of the biggest causes of preventable human factor accidents in the aviation industry.
Some cabin crew have also been made to work without sufficient rest and are being denied breaks that they are entitled to receive, the union alleged.
The union’s national officer for aviation, Oliver Richardson warned that “too many workers were cut during the pandemic and the reductions to pay and conditions for those that remained made the industry unattractive to new starters.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.