Airlines that struggled to recruit enough staff as pandemic-era travel restrictions were lifted last year are already encouraging newly-hired employees to take unpaid leave, restarting a trend that was common throughout the aviation industry for many years before the pandemic.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have already started to offer unpaid leave as a way to temporarily reduce staff overheads before the summer rush when airlines will be under pressure to deliver a reliable operation after a chaotic season last year.
In the case of British Airways, it is understood that the Heathrow-based carrier is offering its cabin crew the entire month of April off unpaid before the summer schedule starts to ramp up from May onwards.
Interestingly, however, the airline has entered into so-called ‘wetlease’ agreements with third-party airlines, including Titan Airways and Oneworld partner Finnair, in which aircraft and crew are supplied to operate flights on behalf of British Airways.
In the case of Finnair, the Helsinki-based carrier confirmed on Wednesday that it would lease out four Airbus A320 aircraft, together with crew and maintenance services to British Airways for 12 months from March 24.
The aircraft will be used to bolster BA’s short-haul European network operations and suggests the airline could still be facing supply issues in other parts of its operation – including aircraft and pilots.
Unpaid leave is generally a popular option among flight attendants on permanent contracts and is often used to pursue a second career, side hustle or education.
The main alternative to unpaid leave is hiring crew on seasonal contracts, although this can sometimes pose a challenge in maintaining training qualifications and experience.
During the pandemic, British Airways was blasted for rewriting employment contracts so that staffers could be forced to take unpaid leave during quieter travel periods, such as in the midst of winter.
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.