Impacts bigger than the September 11 attacks

Flight attendants who have spent more than two decades traveling the world by plane believe that the pandemic has had such significant impacts that they even surpass those of September 11, 2001 in the field of aviation.

“I have never experienced something like this in 22 years. We experienced a certain slowdown with September 11. But as much as now? Never, ”deplores Maria Smirnov, who was temporarily laid off by Air Transat due to the pandemic.

MAria Smirnov.  Flight attendant

Photo Ben Pelosse

MAria Smirnov. Flight attendant

The crash of four planes hijacked by Al-Qaeda in 2001, including two in the Twin Towers of New York, shocked the entire planet. In Canada, planes had remained grounded for 48 to 72 hours, recalls Karine Rainville, counselor at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 15,000 flight attendants.

However, the aviation industry has literally been in free fall for eight months now, as revenue losses mount and layoffs follow one after another.

“At the time, the impacts [du 11 septembre] were immense. But it all picked up pretty quickly and there weren’t that many layoffs. The consequences of the pandemic are much more felt over time, ”emphasizes Rima Chebib, a flight attendant for Air Canada for 24 years.

Ms. Chebib had more chances than her Air Transat counterpart and remained in her position despite the numerous cuts.

” Never seen ”

However, the new health protocols, the few recalcitrant who try not to respect them, the possibility of contracting the virus and the fragility of the environment weigh on his morale.

“It’s appalling what we’re going through right now. There is immense heaviness in the field, we ask ourselves a lot of questions, ”suggests the one who is now at the bottom of the seniority list, despite her two decades of experience.

“Our members are incredibly worried about their future. We have never seen a situation like this, ”confirms CUPE advisor Karine Rainville.

Plan B

Faced with the unknown, Ms. Chebib is preparing a plan B, like several colleagues. But if she is part of a next wave of layoffs, it will not be easy to find a job “while waiting”, as Ms Smirnov testifies.

“I had several interviews and the question [sur un retour éventuel dans les avions] comes back all the time. Most employers are not too interested in training people who won’t stay, ”says the one who finally managed to find a small job as a supervisor in a school.

But many less experienced flight attendants cannot afford to wait to be called back and have changed jobs altogether.

  • In a letter this week to Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, flight attendants across the country requested priority placement for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

An industry in free fall

CUPE-represented flight attendants currently working *

  • Air Transat: 140 out of 2000
  • Air Canada: 3,000 out of 9,000

Air Transat in Q3

  • Revenues $ 9.5 M (-98.6%)
  • Net losses $ 139.8 million

Air Canada in Q3

  • Revenue: $ 757m (-86%)
  • Net losses: $ 685 million
  • Passengers: 1.7 million (-88%)

Jean-Lesage airport traffic

  • 2019: around 146,000 / month
  • 2020 **: around 54,000 / month

* Based on data as of November 10

** Based on data compiled to date

Sources: CUPE, Transat AT inc, Air Canada, YQB

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