Staff shortages and “archaic” airline policies are causing hundreds of Canadian flight attendants to work for free, and they should be paid for ground time, Canada’s union of flight attendants says. 

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 15,000 flight attendants in Canada, says that as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels and understaffing at security and customs has led to lengthy delays, its members are increasingly being forced to work for free. 

CUPE said in a statement that flight attendants are on-duty during many of the flight delays, performing critical work-related tasks to ensure passenger safety, and often absorbing passenger frustration and abuse.

“As flight attendants, we bear the brunt of the anger and frustration and abuse from passengers who are enduring these delays, and to add insult to injury, quite often, we’re working for free while we do it,” president of the Airline Division of CUPE Wesley Lesosky said in a statement.

According to CUPE, the outdated methods in which work hours are calculated often mean that flight attendants end up performing important work duties without getting paid. Typically, flight attendants are only paid for time in the air – meaning they are ordinarily not compensated during delays before takeoff and after landing.

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 A first in US commercial aviation. Delta Air Lines to begin paying flight attendants during the time that passengers are boarding.
 

Lesosky highlighted this is a matter of health and safety, not just pay.  He said flight attendants have minimum rest periods set out in their contracts upon arrival, but those are being encroached and cut short when their duties are ending increasingly later due to extensive delays on the ground.

“Two things are obvious here: first, airlines and federal agencies that run our airports need to hire and properly pay their staff so they can keep our airports moving at a reasonable pace,” said Lesosky. 

Lesosky continued: “Second, the indefensible practice of not paying flight attendants for hours and hours of their time at work needs to end now.  This is not accepted in any other industry. If we aren’t being paid, we fail to understand how we can be made to work.”

CUPE’s demand for on-ground compensation comes a few weeks after Delta Air Lines announced that it will begin paying its flight attendants for ground duties by June 2022. 

Other US airlines represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) have also been pushing for flight attendants to be compensated while performing ground duties.

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More US airlines push for flight attendants to be paid during boarding