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Some British Flight Attendants Are So Inexperienced That They Can’t Even Turn On The Lights, Whistleblower Alleges

Some British Flight Attendants Are So Inexperienced That They Can’t Even Turn On The Lights, Whistleblower Alleges

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.”

View Comments (2)
  • I don’t think this is anything new. BA cabin crew training standards seem to have been declining for quite a while. Back in 2015 I had an exit seat on a B767 outbound from LHR that was short-crewed. We were given the briefing on operating the emergency exit but the flight attendant failed to issue the standard warning about checking for hazards outside before opening it. Exactly the same happened on the return flight. Even further back (2003) I was on B747 LHR-JFK and the aircraft was pushed back from gate with people still standing in the aisles – the flight attendants hadn’t realised that the PA system in the rear cabin had failed. They couldn’t reboot the sytem so, after 45 minutes, the aircraft was shut down on a remote stand so an engineer could come onboard. The fix took five minutes. We then had to be refuelled and there was another big panic when it was realised numerous passengers were using their mobile phones. It was a shambles. We arrived in JFK over two-and-a-half hours late then had to wait another hour for the immigration desks to be staffed. If they’d done their checks properly it could have been fixed at the gate.

  • The Pompous British airways crew member who thinks turning on the aircraft lights should be as simple as flicking the light switch on the wall is the one who needs to get off their high horse and remember everyone is new at some point.
    The multiple aircraft manufacturers have no standardized way to turn on aircraft cabin lights. With multiple different panels for the same aircraft type , digital panels, analog panels and three way control switches at the front and back of the aircraft. And then the really messed up switches are the aircraft with master switches designed to be lighted in a completely dark aircraft, but in a simi lighted aircraft appear like they are switched on because the master switch is lighted and pressed in but really is powered off so the lights do not come on when the second switch marked cabin lights is rotated to on.
    It is as if the master switches were designed to be wired and operate backwards to all other common switches in the 737 aircraft. So when you fly multiple aircraft types and even on the same type you will encounter many multiple ways to turn the lights on. And not everyone in the crew will get the chance to be the first one to power up the aircraft first flight of the day and turn the lights on .

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