The chief executive of Swiss International Airlines has admitted that cabin crew wages will have to rise if the airline is to have any hope of hiring and retaining enough flight attendants to keep up with surging travel demand.
Despite Switzerland’s steep cost of living, in recent years, Swiss had successfully cut wages so much that new hire flight attendants could expect to earn an average of just 4,000 Swiss francs ($4,170) per month.
The pandemic saw workers’ wages across the aviation industry plummet still further as airlines desperately tried to save costs to ride out the crisis. Employees felt there was little choice but to accept swinging pay cuts or face redundancy.
At the start of the outset, Swiss even tried to ‘buy out’ entry-level flight attendants for just 1,000 Swiss Francs to save the airline from going through a formal redundancy process.
But with airlines struggling to hire back workers fast enough to keep up with demand, the tables have finally turned. The industry is coming to terms with the fact that cabin crew wages hit their nadir at some point in the last two years and their only trajectory is upwards.
Swiss boss Dieter Vranckx told local newspaper NZZ on Saturday that cabin crew “wages will most likely be adjusted upward” when the airline meets with crew representatives next month to discuss pay and conditions.
There is increased urgency to improve wages given the cost of living crisis that is gripping Europe and other parts of the world.
Swiss is owned by the German flag carrier Lufthansa which is also in pay talks with its own cabin crew. The airline was recently forced to offer a generous pay offer to thousands of ground workers after a 24-hour ‘warning strike’ grounded hundreds of flights.
The mere talk of strike action helped thousands of workers at British Airways win a 13 per cent pay rise – something that the cabin crew union said was urgently needed in order to keep up with inflation.
Some airlines are, however, still resisting demands for improved conditions. Ryanair is facing down a wave of cabin crew strikes in Spain, while Iberia Express is also set to be hit by a cabin crew walkout in a bitter pay dispute.
What makes the Iberia Express dispute so interesting is that the airline was specifically created as a lower-cost model of Spain’s flag carrier Iberia to take over unprofitable short-haul routes. Cabin crew knew they would earn a lot less than their colleagues at the mainline Iberia airline when they signed up for the job, but they are now seizing the opportunity to win pay rises.
It’s a story that is likely to played out at a lot more airlines over the coming months.
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.