Icelandair Fires All Flight Attendants, Will Replace Them With Pilots

Filed Under: Icelandair, Unions

Update: Fortunately management and the union have come to a new agreement, which should prevent these layoffs.

As reported by The Reykjavik Grapevine, Icelandair has fired all of its flight attendants, as the company will instead try to find “another party in the Icelandic labor market” to replace current employees.

As of July 20, 2020, and until further notice, Icelandair will use pilots to replace flight attendants, as they’ll be focused on overseeing cabins:

  • Since Icelandair is only operating a limited schedule at the moment, the airline has surplus pilots
  • At the moment inflight service is extremely limited due to coronavirus, so it’s not like these pilots will have a whole lot of work to do

The decision to fire all flight attendants comes after members of Icelandair’s flight attendant union voted against a collective bargaining agreement about a year ago. Management and flight attendants have been unable to come to an agreement regarding wages and time off.

Icelandair executives claim they’ve done everything they can to meet the demands of flight attendants, describing the decision as “heavy but necessary.” Meanwhile it’s said that Icelandair management had been considering starting to negotiate with another union, which wasn’t well received.

In response to Icelandair’s decision to fire all flight attendants, the head of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour said that they are “exploring every avenue to prevent this. This is unbelievably shameless on Icelandair’s part. It shows disrespect for the workers and disrespect for the rules in place regarding the Icelandic labour market and those in the midst of negotiations.”

This is obviously a really tough in the airline industry in general. It’s especially sad to see something like this happen. Hopefully this decision is reconsidered, and management and flight attendants can come to an agreement.

In the meantime, it sure would be unusual to see a bunch of captains with four stripes on their uniforms sitting in flight attendant jumpseats…

  1. What the actual….? Is this for real? Now I want to fly Icelandair just to witness this first hand.

  2. This *has* to be a bluff, right? It can’t be that much cheaper to have to pay for Flight Attendant training for *all* their pilots? Unless management thinks no more of them than fancy waiters & waitresses when their actual job is, of course, officers of safety?

  3. They should have fired all their pilots and let the flight attendants fly the planes- bid money saver!

  4. What pilot is going to be okay with doing the job of a flight attendant?? Bold strategy, Cotton.

  5. I think Pilots are well equipped with the knowledge necessary to operate doors (slides, G-D forbid) and slide the control to manual. I assume this is already in their training or can be taught in minutes.

  6. Hard to believe!!! Just because as EASE (which Iceland and therefore ICELANDAIR is responsible for teh Safety and Rules being done as ordered by the EASA), would mean, that ALL those pilots would have to undergo FIRST AID courses and exams over the weekend to be “FIT TO FLY”!!
    Canbin Crew in the States that subject to operate in those EASA laws and rules need to get attestation year after year, to be qualified to be working as a trained and aproved Cabin Crew!
    Annual Cabin Crew trainings are very differnt in Europe compared to the US market.
    For me, hard to believe that ALL flight attendants would be replaced by pilots!
    Maybe a certain number of them or at least 1 qualified Cabin Crew member would sill be on those operating passenger flights!
    Since ICELANDAIR was flying Cargo to/from Germany in recent months, maybe that is some sort of misscommunication and it’s pilots who attend those flights to secure the Cabin, being loaded with Cargo?

  7. But do pilots receive full FA safety training? It was my understanding that their course was an abbreviated version that covered just the basics.

  8. @Ray – waiter / waitress is almost a perfect description for what a flight attendant’s primary responsibility should be.

    The FA unions destroyed the service culture of airlines when they insisted on trying to make their members’ roles something other than they were meant to be.

    If this entire pandemic can end the FA unions and bring in-flight service back to the air hostess / stewardess days, it will be a small victory for travel post-pandemic.

  9. @LiuX. Originally, UA FA’s were required to be nurses. For passenger safety. Your knowledge of history is greatly lacking.

  10. Well at least if the pilots became incapacitated during a flight, it would no longer be a problem:-D

  11. I assume it is partially bluff and partially an actual option to management.

    Management is not able to work with stubborn unions so decides to bluff big time.

    On the other hand it is a real option to them because instead of paying all employees a wage even when they’re not flying (assuming this is the case) is immensely expensive. So fire the cabin crew and use the pilots for both jobs (easier to train a pilot as a flight attendant than the other way around 🙂 ) because they are paying the pilots anyway, so rather have them work.

    This is a good temporary measure for them, this way they are able to operate flights, have lower labour costs and get the time to look for new cabin crew.

    To be seen if it actually happens or if it is stopped by, management themselves, unions, courts, gouvernement…

  12. @ChuckMO: 🙂 it seems like some (incl. LiuX), the ONLY thing that counts is flying FIRST, ony because of free niniature liquor and beer?
    Trouble is, he’s been probably flying on too many of such flights already? 😉
    Most airlines had such requirements as the old UA league! About 30 years ago, you still had to do survival training as Cabin Crew (incl. Pilots!). Of course in the US, no airline ever had to fly for hours over Deserts in Africa to reach the destination or the Middle East way before it was what it is today, so such things were necessary on top of speaking at least 2 foreign languages and meeting a certain level of Culture as well.
    Those times are LONG gone.
    But back to the subject, Pilots these days will have to undergo certain training to be in a Cabin Crew standard and according to EASA rules and regulations.
    So IF they should really attend flights in the cabin, it will be a busy weekend in Reykjavík. 😮

  13. This is beyond weird! In the US a pilot is not allowed to stand in for a flight attendant’s duties. I can only imagine that being true everywhere in the world….but, it’s 2020 after all….INSANE.

  14. I actually see this as a smart move. This prevents FI from having to layoff as many pilots so they will be available when things return to normal. Flight Attendants, on the other hand, are pretty easy to replace.

  15. How sadly dysfunctional.

    I flew Icelandair KEF-LHR on Sunday and was due to fly back Thursday, but have bought a ticket on easyJet. It’s hard to see how Icelandair could maintain a reliable schedule. Icelandair offers absolutely no service, cabin crew were purely arming doors and nothing else. So pilots manning doors will make no difference to customers at all.

    I know a lot of people at Icelandair, there’s lots of background to this and historic bad feeling towards the cabin crew union from lots of internal quarters. The pilots won’t back the cabin crew. I also know there is also a lot of furloughed terminal staff at KEF who’d jump to be cabin crew, and many former Wow cabin crew are still looking for work.

    Icelandair can probably do this….

  16. Union Busting. Complete lack of respect for the staff. Absolute disgrace. Some love Cabin Crew, some hate them. However they are the first people you turn to when things are going wrong at 35000ft. it is Worth pointing out, that it is a profession, and not everyone can do it. .I find it very annoying, when people leave derogatory comments, re, someone else’s profession, and something I am sure they know nothing about. It is easy to educate someone in doing almost anything. Unfortunately, all the education in the world, won’t give someone a personality. It is disappointing, that Iceland Air has taken this approach, and I have the upmost sympathy, for anyone facing the prospect of loosing their job in the middle of a global pandemic.

  17. While at first blush this may sound like a “viable work around”… However I can see this turning into a complete Shit-Show!

    In general, pilots ARE NOT hired for their warm and fuzzy personalties or pleasant and approachable looks!

    Many of them have never ever handled real-life medical emergencies with everything from blood to feces to death!

  18. I would love to see the looks on the pilot’s faces when that memo went out.
    Isn’t the salary of 1 pilot = half a dozen flight attendants?
    Why didn’t they just use a dozen puppies instead?

  19. Meanwhile, pilots replaced by airline executives…..and now you know…the rest of the story….

  20. so….now the automatic pilot is going to get a raise and it will be in change of the cockpit…hahaha

  21. At least that worst case scenario that’s in people’s nightmares and movies won’t happen… The one where you hear a ding for an announcement and a flight attendant asks the passengers if there’s a licensed pilot on the plane.

  22. After repeatedly pressing the call button for a flight attendant to bring me some water and getting no reply….. I finally see a 3 or 4 gold stripe pilot coming to my seat and asking me what would I like….. I panic and feel so little that I forget about my thirst. Oh what a crazy world we now live in….

  23. @STEFFL~ your overuse (and incorrect) capitalizing everything makes your posts painful to read ! Also, proof-reading before hitting Enter, in the absence of SpellCheck, is highly recommended.

  24. Good for management! Hopefully American air carriers will follow suit across the board, unions’ days have come and gone and haven’t been necessary for 50 years or more. The bottom line is that unions have destroyed industries, especially here in the US, businesses are supposed to be profitable and make returns for their investors, not turn flying cocktail waitresses and waiters into millionaires! You people who think cabin crews are the most vital human components in the aircraft need a reality check, they sit up front! On any given day, the chances of a “flight attendant” performing any function vital to the flight and/or it’s safety is practically nil, and even on the occasions where Murphy does his thing, they’re along for the ride just like everyone else, period! So enough with making it sound as if they’re splitting atoms or performing brain surgery, they’re not, and I feel very confident that a person who can pilot a commercial jetliner can pass out peanuts and sodas just as well!

  25. Well they have excess pilots, who would be arguably harder to replace than cabin crew by virtue of having to hold a license to operate. Doesn’t make it morally right though.

    They’ll just be rostering extra flight crew onboard to cover the doors. The training cabin crew and flight crew do for those duties are exactly the same. The flight crew even do the same medical and security training so no problems there. I was flight crew and we were graded on running on evacuation and ditching as well.
    And I have done a cabin service as well. Just don’t expect it to be as quick and expect the cocktails to be heavy in the booze.

    Still, it’s shameless by management. I wouldn’t want to be in cabin refresher training with the old cabin crew after this was all over.

  26. I’m not sure it’s “union busting”. Surely the unique circumstances required the FAs to make some concessions…for the greater, collective good, ie a key plank of unionism. They kept holding the line but it broke.
    Some shades of Reagan and the air traffic controllers, although that was public sector, so somewhat different.

  27. @Randall
    “In general, pilots ARE NOT hired for their warm and fuzzy personalties or pleasant and approachable looks!”
    Have you never flown an airline in the US? What are you talking about “warm and fuzzy personalities”?
    What does “approachable looks” even mean?

  28. I’d be interested to read to full details of Icelandair’s policy here as it seems you don’t have the full details

    Americans and theirs anti union rhetoric. A country with no universal healthcare, no maternity let alone paternity leave. Service workers so poorly paid they rely on tips as legislation deems it’s ok for employers to pay $2-3 dollars and hour and tips make part of the salary, legislation in some states that allows discrimination,
    No sick pay and 2 weeks holiday a year. And so much more

    I also worked there once. Never again

    Personally a union member for over 35 years Never been on strike. A pay increase every year ( apart from presently ). Protected my earnings during covid Increased holiday entitlement . And living somewhere, where if we are sick we don’t have to worry about being homeless and bankrupted

  29. Okay so I don’t really understand what these plus pilots will actually do on board of the aircraft. Explain?

  30. Wouldn’t that sort of makes the pilots SCABS? It’s not 100% apples to apples but it’s pretty damn close.

  31. reminded me of caterpillar engineers need to work as technician and in the assembly line while the UAW were on strike. Great move from mgmt. Easier to train pilot as FA and rehire FA in the future than retrain and rehire pilots. Smart long term decision. If pilots don’t like it and rather be out of job, be their guests. More airlines should follow suit imho.

  32. @ivan
    Because in the US the rule are stupid. Thanks to the union. So much inflexibility. Instead of working towards common goal for a company, many think about themselves more. I am not a union but worked my fair share with many union. Can’t tell you how many grievances i got for doing something so trivial.
    I don’t mind union but people have been taking advantage of it for sure.

  33. An airline I will now never fly on.

    I’m really surprised by their decision and reasoning.

    They are literally saying: we don’t believe in teamwork and equality of certain roles/tasks, so off you f&@£k.

  34. This sort of reminds me of XJT right after 9/11 when pilots were furloughed and we could take open FA positions (we had to go through full FA training mind you). It was a real eye opener to what goes on in the cabin. They have such an important and too often thankless job. If FA’s were simply waiters/waitresses, as some illustrious commenters in these threads seem to believe, they wouldn’t even exist. The airlines would just replace them with vending machines and be done with it, but they don’t and cannot because safety is #1.

  35. I agree completely with what many have said about unions being unnecessary and detrimental to business, employment and the economy in general. Apparently people seem to have forgotten that unions are directly responsible for a number of industries being almost nonexistent here in the US, steel, electronics and appliances industries comes to mind. They’ve also done wonders for the automobile industry, the US Postal Service and a number of other industries and employment that struggling because of grossly overpaid union employees.

    I’m a retired Army MH-47 MH-47 helicopter pilot, but now doing contract work related to Aviation maintenance, I fly frequently and have flown on just about every sizable air carriers in the US. While I can say that some carriers seem to have better trained flight attendants than others, none of them, absolutely zero are critical to air travel, period! They are primarily there to board and disembark passengers, help keep order and to provide services such as beverages, meals, blankets, etc. While the are trained in certain functions related to safety, as well as emergency procedures, the salaries demanded by unions far exceed the benefits of what services they perform or might perform in an emergency.

    Consider this, your average flight attendant goes through approximately 3 to 6 weeks of training, aside from the obvious focus on attention to customers’ needs, they usually receive training in CPR, AED, basic first aid and other emergency procedural training, primarily disembarking the aircraft once it has landed and stopped moving. The average pay for a beginning flight attendant in the US is approximately $76,670.00 dollars according to By contrast, a US Air Marshal undergoes approximately 25 weeks of training, including the same emergency response training flight attendants recieve, as well as responding to any number of aircraft emergencies such as hijackings, belligerent passengers, etc., situations flight attendants are usually not trained to deal with and/or are prohibited from getting involved in, including the use of deadly force. The average US Air Marshal beginning salary ranges from $46,950.00 to $54,865.00 dollars depending on experience and/or location. The idea that flight attendants are worth substantially more pay than an Air Marshals is absolutely ludicrous.

    Air carriers employs tens of thousands of people, many of whom are unionized and all wanting as much pay and benefits as they can possibly get. Air carriers are businesses, businesses that are not only expected to be profitable to their investors, but also to stay in business. But there’s another part to this equation, consumers, most people want to travel as cheaply as possible while getting the best service for the money they spend. When people look at the money most air carriers are making at the end of the year, what they don’t think about are capital expenditures, especially future expenditures. The only thing they see are dollars, consumers want cheaper airfares and unions wants more pay and benefits with little if any regards to the future of that company.

    While I’m sure flight attendants do a little more than just serve drinks and heard passengers, I can think of plenty of people who would gladly do the job they’re doing for a lot less than what they’re making… greed runs both ways!

  36. @Dale D
    I work with the FAA and they absolutely are a critical to cabin safety, as proven in numerous incidents throughout the years. Serving food and beverages is merely a pastime to keep themselves and passengers occupied. They are trained on all of the security procedures you mentioned (hijacking, belligerent passengers etc.) though most of it is unpublicized due to security protocols. Air Marshals are extremely rare, onboard about 5% of flights on average out of roughly 87,000 daily.
    Also, I don’t where “” gets there information but new hire FA’s don’t earn anywhere near $76,000.
    Hope this helps.

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