Most airlines have some quirks when it comes to their workforce and labor contracts, though British Airways’ cabin crew situation is among the most interesting to me.
Whenever I review airlines I talk about the service, and in the case of British Airways flights I always reference whether the crew is “mixed fleet” or not.
I just took another British Airways flight and was writing up the review, and realized that I’ve never written a full explanation of what exactly mixed fleet cabin crew are, and why you should (or shouldn’t care). So that’s what this post is intended to address.
What makes a British Airways flight attendant “mixed fleet,” and what’s the difference anyway?
British Airways’ 2010 Labor Dispute
Historically British Airways cabin crew were extremely well compensated. For the Heathrow base, there were two types of crews:
- “Worldwide fleet” crews, which operated their long haul flights
- “Euro fleet” crews, which operated their short haul flights
This is an interesting distinction to begin with, since at most airlines flight attendants can work all kinds of different flights, but that wasn’t the case at British Airways.
I’m getting sidetracked here, because that distinction has little to do with mixed fleet.
In 2010 British Airways management and their flight attendants had a huge labor dispute. British Airways was facing increased competition from ultra low cost carriers, and they needed to cut costs.
They were looking for concessions from cabin crew, though the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. Cabin crew ended up collectively striking for more than three weeks, which had huge impacts on British Airways’ operations.
That’s How Mixed Fleet Was Born…
Given that management and the union weren’t able to come to an agreement, the company took drastic measures. British Airways said that they’d never hire another flight attendant under their existing contracts, and that they’d instead create a whole new cabin crew workforce, known as mixed fleet.
Mixed fleet cabin crew are paid significantly less, have different work rules, in some cases stay at worse hotels on layovers, etc. With the creation of the new program, British Airways was able to hire flight attendants at a much lower cost than they could have ever gotten from their other crews.
How Can You Tell If You Have A Mixed Fleet Crew?
Mixed fleet and worldwide fleet crews don’t fly together — they operate separate flights, and obviously they’re opposing work groups in a way, since worldwide fleet flight attendants probably think that the mixed fleet flight attendants are “stealing” their jobs (though I think their beef is more with management than the mixed fleet crews as such).
So, how can you tell if the crew is mixed fleet? Just look at them:
- No flight attendants on the worldwide fleet contract have been hired since 2010, so none of them are under 30; in reality most of them are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s
- Mixed fleet cabin crew come in all ages, and can be hired starting at the age of 18; there are some older mixed fleet flight attendants who choose that as a second career, though in reality I’ve found the average age of a mixed fleet crew to be mid 20s at most
I’m not trying to be ageist, but truly that’s the most obvious way to tell, because the age difference is very evident.
Another way to tell is based on the announcement from the cabin leader. On flights with worldwide fleet crews, the leading flight attendant is referred to as the “cabin service director,” while for mixed fleet crews they’re referred to as the “customer service manager.”
Then a third way involves hats, and this is especially ridiculous if you ask me:
- Female mixed fleet crew wear hats on all flights
- Female worldwide fleet crew wear hats only on A350s, A380s, and 787s (yeah, what the heck?)
Just to give a sense of how young mixed fleet cabin crew can be, I once had a customer service manager on a 747 who was 22 (and looked significantly younger than that, which is the only reason the age came up). Yes, that’s right, a 22 year old was managing the cabin. Good for him.
What Are The Practical Implications?
Above I shared how you can tell if you have a mixed fleet crew, but what are the real implications? In general you’ll find there’s a huge difference in terms of the service style of worldwide fleet vs. mixed fleet crews.
The worldwide fleet crews are all experienced and have been in their routine for a long time, for better or worse:
- Some are extremely professional and polished, among the best flight attendants out there
- Some have really bad attitudes, are arrogant, and don’t seem to enjoy their jobs
I find worldwide fleet crews to be a mixed bag, though one thing is for sure — they know what they’re doing.
Conversely I find mixed fleet crews to generally be incredibly well intentioned, enthusiastic, and friendly, but the service flow sometimes feels like a training program. Turnover is incredibly high for mixed fleet crews given how little they’re paid, and as you’d expect there’s no substitute for experience.
In general my preference would be an excellent worldwide fleet crew, followed by a mixed fleet crew, followed by a grumpy worldwide crew. 😉
Mixed Fleet Controversy
There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding mixed fleet cabin crew, and there have been claims that they’re getting paid “poverty wages.”
On their careers page, British Airways claims that mixed fleet cabin crew get a starting salary of £15,612 (~20,500USD) per year, and have “the potential to earn, on average, a rewards package of between £23,000 and £28,000” per year.
Being based in London, that’s not exactly amazing pay to begin with, though there are also arguments that those amounts are inflated to begin with, and actual pay for many cabin crew is even lower.
This is why turnover is so high, since people can’t afford to keep the job. It is a “glamorous” job in the sense that you get to travel all over the world from the very beginning and can be promoted quickly, but given the pay, not many people stick around.
There are lots of airlines with interesting quirks when it comes to their flight attendant staffing.
In many cases we see airlines have foreign bases to save costs, like American’s Bogota-based crews, Finnair’s Singapore-based crews, and Cathay Pacific’s San Francisco based crews. In the case of British Airways all the flight attendants they’ve hired in the past decade (or so) have been on a much less expensive contract.
Anyway, since I always reference the “type” of crew I have in my reviews of British Airways flights, I figured it was time to expand a bit on the differences.
Hopefully this explains why you may take two back-to-back British Airways long haul flights where one crew is an average of 55 years old, and the other crew is an average of 25 years old.
Which type of crew is better depends on whether you prefer a polished and experienced crew, or an enthusiastic but potentially unpolished crew.
What has your experience been like with British Airways mixed fleet crews?