Etihad Airways has taken a leaf out of the book of U.S.-based carriers and will no longer offer flight attendants ‘boarding pay’ as part of their wages. The practice of not paying crewmembers for boarding and other duties on the ground is being challenged by several unions in the United States, and the practice has already been eliminated at Delta Air Lines.
Just like at many airlines, flight attendants at Etihad Airways receive a basic wage along with an hourly allowance for flying time. Until now, flying time was calculated for their entire duty period from the moment that a crew member checked in to when they disembarked the aircraft at the end of the flight.
This meant that flight attendants were being paid for important ground-related duties like the pre-flight briefing, security checking the aircraft and boarding passengers. It also meant that crew were being paid while passengers were disembarking and a short time after in order to complete more security checks.
From February 1, however, Etihad will no longer pay these flying allowances based on the overall duty period but instead by what is referred to as the ‘block hours’.
In simple terms, the block hours start from the moment the aircraft pushes back from the gate to the moment it arrives at the gate at its destination. It is sometimes referred to as ‘chocks to chocks’ because the clock starts when the chocks are removed, and the clock stops when the chocks are placed into position at the destination.
In an internal memo, Etihad said it was making the sweeping change because it was “industry standard to utilise block hours” and, as such, “it is a long overdue change”. The airline also explained that it would help simplify its business and scheduling systems because pilots are already paid by block hours.
To soften the blow, Etihad has promised to increase the hourly allowance rate by at least 30%, although flight attendants have still expressed their disappointment with the change.
On a good day, the change shouldn’t make too much difference to how much flight attendants at the Abu Dhabi-based carrier earn, but earnings could be significantly impacted during delays and disruption when an aircraft is stuck at the gate, but flight attendants are already on duty.
Although disappointed with the change, there is little that flight attendants will be able to do about it. In the United Arab Emirates, worker unions are forbidden by law, and it’s illegal to take part in a protest. Even criticising the status quo on social media could land people in big trouble.
In the United States, where ‘boarding pay’ is becoming a hot topic, Delta is so far one of only two airlines that pay flight attendants for boarding at half the normal hourly flying rate.
The union that represents flight attendants at American Airlines is battling with the carrier for the same provision, although contract negotiations have reached a stalemate and the union wants to be released to strike.
Meanwhile, the union at United Airlines believes that ‘boarding pay’ isn’t enough and has proposed paying flight attendants for the entire duty period – exactly the concept that Etihad is now eliminating.
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.