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Janet Dassinger CUPE Research

More than a decade after WestJet first applied to Transport Canada to reduce the ratio of flight attendants to passengers, Canada’s airline industry has finally succeeded in gaining exemptions from regulations governing the ratio of flight attendants to passengers.

This year, every major airline in Canada will legally be allowed to reduce the number of flight attendants from one for every 40 passengers to one for every 50 passenger seats on most narrow-bodied aircraft. The new ratio will lead to the elimination of at least one flight attendant on many planes. CUPE flight attendants who are now flying with the new ratio report increased workloads, greater fatigue, and declining safety and service standards.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt justified the change by claiming the 1:50 ratio conforms to the “interna­tional standard.” However, not even Transport Canada can assure the public that an “equivalent” level of safety will be maintained with the new ratio, saying only that it deems the new ratio to be “acceptable.”

For more than ten years, CUPE has provided comprehensive research to regulators and parliamentarians which proves that reducing the number of flight attendants jeopardizes the safety of both cabin crew and passengers. We have argued that successful evacuations, for example the 2005 Air France crash in Toronto and the 2013 Asiana crash in San Francisco, were directly attributable to the adequacy of staffing on board.

We have also emphasized that while evacuations are rare, flight attendants perform countless tasks that guarantee passenger safety from take-off to landing. In addition to normal operating procedures, flight attendants routinely deal with medi­cal emergencies, unruly passengers, mechanical failures, and a host of other potential threats to safety.

CUPE has responded with a comprehensive campaign to maintain the 1:40 ratio. The union has also asked the courts to review Transport Canada’s decision.