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Airline Trade Group Offers Job Retraining in Dismal Sign for Furloughed Cabin Crews

Madhu Unnikrishnan
February 9th, 2021 at 1:36 PM EST

It’s generally not a vote of confidence in the strength of an industry when the leading trade group in the sector offers retraining education for laid-off and furloughed workers. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is sending just such a message with a new course aimed to help laid-off cabin crew employees find new jobs outside the airline industry.

The IATA course aims to teach flight attendants how to write a resume (CV), to polish their interviewing and networking skills, and to identify transferable skills from their careers as flight attendants to other industries. The online course is free of charge to laid-off cabin crew workers. Almost 80 percent of flight attendants IATA polled said they needed help retraining for work in other industries.

Any little bit helps, of course. Tens of thousands of flight attendants have been laid off or furloughed around the world since the pandemic began. And more will be laid off before the recovery occurs. IATA predicts the airline industry will not return to its 2019 size until at least 2024, even with vaccinations.

Of course, the downturn may be shorter or even longer. No one really can predict the trajectory of the pandemic, with new viral variants emerging around the world. No one also can predict how economies will recover once the sugar-high of fiscal stimulus burns off. If global GDP contracts, as expected, then travel’s recovery could be delayed.

In the U.S., most airlines say they will be between 20-25 percent smaller this year than they were in 2019. Thousands of flight attendants took buyouts and voluntary leaves of absence last summer when airlines were trying to gauge their staffing levels. Yet, tens of thousands more remain working thanks to federal payroll support (after being furloughed in September when the CARES Act support expired and recalled in December after a new round of federal stimulus).

The latest round of stimulus will expire at the end of March, and flight attendants unions are lobbying Congress for more aid to extend the payroll support through September. Lawmakers are said to be sympathetic to their entreaties, after airlines signaled that they would furlough almost 30,000 workers.

The situation around the world is no better. In Canada and many European countries, airline workers are eligible for the same wage and unemployment support as workers in other fields. Air Canada reportedly announced a further round of layoffs today, and its workforce now is half the size it was in 2019. Aeromexico and its flight attendants union are hoping to avoid mass layoffs and are in talks for concessions. Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific — the list is almost endless — all announced layoffs last year.

In most cases, laid off cabin crew have had to leave the airline industry altogether. That’s because of the nature of this downturn. It’s truly global, as the pandemic is global. Past airline industry downturns, even in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., were more regional in scope. Laid-off workers then conceivably could find lucrative work abroad. In fact, the three Persian Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, held recruitment drives in several Western countries in the mid-2000s and later. But that avenue is now closed.

Facing this reality, IATA’s Director of Training Stephanie Siouffi said: “We hope to welcome them back to aviation, but for now many will need to seek opportunities to earn a livelihood in other sectors.”

Madhu Unnikrishnan
February 9th, 2021 at 1:36 PM EST


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