Chinelo Obogo, [email protected]
Helen Peters (not real name) had always dreamt of working in the aviation industry. But when she eventually got a job in one of the now defunct domestic airlines that crashed in the early 2000s, she was very excited. After her interview, she was told in clear terms by the company that she was not to get pregnant for at least a year. She was shocked to the marrow as she had just got married in her late 30s and was looking forward to starting a family. Faced with no better option, she took it and the long working hours and rigours of the job took a toll on her health even when the time given to her had elapsed.
Working as a Cabin Crew in an airline is usually regarded as a fascinating job. Boarding aircraft and seeing beautifully dressed young ladies and smartly dressed men, can be alluring for a job seeker. But behind the glamour being a flight attendant or pilot presents, there are many challenges that practitioners have to contend with.
According to Business Insider’s analysis, flight attendants have one of the unhealthiest jobs. It had used data from the Occupational Information Network to determine which careers had the greatest negative impact on workers’ health. The publication evaluated major health risks to include, exposure to contaminants; disease and infection; radiation and minor burns, cuts, bites or stings.
From the health risks to poor remuneration and loss of life, these challenges are very real issues that cabin crew face on a daily basis. At the third Cabin Crew fair convened by Joy Ogbebor of Mamaj Aviation Consult held at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority Annex, Ikeja, Lagos last week, these issues and how to effectively manage them were discussed in detail.
The annual fair had in attendance former and serving cabin crew, pilots, human resources personnel, health workers and aviation experts. The event aimed to tackle headlong the challenges airline workers face and many who were in attendance said they were determined to reposition this all important profession to an enviable level, such that no one would shy away from identifying with it.
One of the major speakers, and an Executive Manager at Aero Contractors, Kudirat Bello, said the joy and glamour associated with the profession has been lost because of the challenges facing the job. One major issue that Bello highlighted is the rule from many airlines that females are not required to be pregnant for certain years while on the job.
According to her, even when the bond elapses, it may then become difficult for the woman to conceive due to some of the health hazards that “Female cabin crew faces the challenges of having to observe bond when they are employed. In some airlines, this bond goes up to like three years before they can be allowed to conceive and when they are even free to conceive, some may have problem of conception due to some hazards of the profession. There are problem that age and other threats of being secluded in that small cubicle in the cabin can put on one’s health.
“Not only that, some face the threats of losing their pregnancy even if at the end of the day they are able to conceive because of the pressurisation in the cabin and one thing is for you be pregnant and fly from point A to point B and step down and another thing is for you to do it on a daily basis for a living, so that on itself has its own side effects,” she said.
Another problem according to her, is that with the closure of many airlines, many cabin crew members have lost their jobs and the few airlines left are capitalising on the high unemployment rate to pay peanuts to those they want to employ.
“Many of our domestic airlines have closed shop and threw many crew members into the labour market with the obvious implication of a surfeit of manpower in the sector. Gone are the days when you are happy just thinking about the glamour and the attractiveness of the profession. Now you just want to secure a job because you don’t want to be like your fellow crew member that is unemployed. You want to do everything to retain whatever job you have you have and regardless of the fact that the pay is not that interesting, you are happy that at least you are earning a living.
“Another vital challenge we face is the issue of remuneration. Even those that are in the system right now also face the challenge of salaries not being paid. Some airlines are barely trying to survive and for that, they find it difficult to pay workers’ salaries on time. As a result, many that are working take advantage of the situation to engage in shady activities that give bad names to the profession,” she said.
On the role of the NCAA in assisting to minimise these challenges, the cabin executive manager said although the agency was assisting with the employment of cabin crew officers as cabin safety inspectors much more was required on its part.
“Another challenge borders on what a cabin crew can do after leaving the system. When you leave, there is nothing more for you to do. It is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA), and some agencies in aviation that are trying to absorb crew members and give them jobs enable them continue to earn a living but that is one of the roles they play.
“We have some airlines that have not paid salaries for months but the crew wants to remain in the system because they know that once they step out, some others will step in regardless of the challenges in the system. The NCAA has a big role to play in the system by regulating and cautioning all the airlines.
“They should help to regulate salaries in the industry for cabin crew members. For those that are not ready to pay cabin crew well, we insist they should give them their reward for the sweat all through the month, they deserve to be paid promptly,” she said.
For her part, Ogbebor the convener of the fair, listed other challenges to include misconception about the profession, lack of a professional body, age limit, lack of jobs and poor salary payment. According to her, ‘Guidance, mentorship, poor remuneration, lack of exit plan, slowed career progression, lack of legislation protecting practitioners,’ are major contributory factors.
She argued that this year’s event was not just to highlight the challenges but also to proffer realistic solutions, adding that such fair would afford heads of agencies, airline operators and other stakeholders the opportunity to listen and get firsthand information from the professionals on how to assist in solving their problems. She appealed to all stakeholders to support cabin practitioners in their quest to contribute their own quota to building a better aviation industry.