As a Gatwick-bound British Airways aircraft readying for take-off in Las Vegas burst into flames yesterday (September 8), BA cabin crew, Unite members, swung into action and evacuated the plane, leading all passengers off safely.
Panic among the 157 people on board spread quickly after pilots aborted take-off when the left engine of the Boeing 777-200 began billowing smoke.
Cabin crew calmed passengers and evacuated the aircraft after deploying emergency slides. Only 14 people were taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Passenger Lynne Alexander described to the BBC the horrific scenes that could have ended in serious injuries or even fatalities, had it not been for cabin crew heroes who skilfully managed the emergency evacuation.
“I was sitting on the right hand side near the wing, but I could see the smoke from the left engine belching out,” Lynn said. “Debris was falling from the sky and I could smell smoke and fuel so knew it was a fire. People were getting out of their seats and the crew were trying to calm them down.”
“It all happened so fast and the crew were amazing,” she added.
The evacuation, expertly presided over by a cabin manager, sheds light on just how fundamental cabin crew leadership is to passenger safety.
Massive pay cuts
But this same cabin manager who, with nearly three decades of experience, has helped save lives, is one of more than 350 Gatwick British Airways cabin managers now faced with the choice of accepting massive pay cuts to the tune of £9,000 a year, or take redundancy.
These most senior crew members can currently earn up to £33,000 a year, but British Airways has unilaterally moved to create a new “customer service manager” role, replacing the cabin manager role, whose salary is expected to be capped at £24,000 – a wage that’s well below the national average.
If the cabin managers do not accept the new, much lower paid roles or take voluntary redundancy, their jobs will be terminated, a move that British Airways has claimed was necessary in order to maintain an operation that was “sustainable”, “competitive”, and “market rate”.
But a new blog investigating the unfair treatment of British Airways cabin crew at Gatwick notes that the customer service manager roles will be exactly the same as cabin manager roles, meaning that BA bosses have essentially renamed an existing role for the purposes of cutting pay.
And while long-serving crew face such massive pay cuts or risk losing their jobs, BA has reported record profits, with the airline’s chief executive Keith Williams being awarded £3.9m this year, amounting to 30 per cent pay rise.
“Today’s events have once again shown the critical role of cabin crew and highlighted that there can be no compromise when it comes to passenger safety,” said Unite national officer Oliver Richardson.
Richardson explained that the airlines are increasingly setting pay using the ‘market rate’ of the wider hospitality industry. This makes the grossly false equivalence between, for example, hotel workers and cabin crew, who endure rigorous safety training and must always be prepared to take control of a potentially fatal situation, in which hundreds of lives could be at risk.
“Whilst the tens of thousands of crew that Unite represent will always perform their duties with the utmost diligence, it is of real concern that the airlines view that it is appropriate that the ‘market’ be left to determine what they are paid,” Richardson said. “Airlines see no contradiction in announcing massive and unsustainable pay cuts, whilst at the same time, requiring the highest level of professionalism from their staff.”
Unite regional officer Claire Simpson agreed.
“Today’s events highlighted the role that cabin crew play as safety professionals,” she said. “However, it is not lost on our members at Gatwick that those self-same crew who evacuated the aircraft earlier today recently received letters that advised them of their ‘choice’ of a cut in pay of up to 9k or dismissal.”
“We would once again ask BA to reflect on the fact that safety is something that should not be left to market forces but reflect the duties and responsibilities that crew so competently carry out,” Simpson added.