Icelandair Pilots Accused Of Undermining Cabin Crew, Putting Safety Standards At Risk

Filed Under: Icelandair, Unions

A few weeks ago, Icelandair made headlines for its plan to fire all flight attendants and temporarily replace them with pilots. Now the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), which represents over five million transport workers in 41 countries, is condemning the actions of the company’s pilots.

Icelandair’s cabin crew dispute

Back in mid-July, Icelandair revealed a plan to lay off all flight attendants. The intent was for flight attendants to temporarily be replaced by pilots, given the excess pilots the company has as it’s operating a limited schedule. The company was then going to find “another party in the Icelandic labor market” to assume this role long-term.

This decision came after members of Icelandair’s flight attendant union voted against a collective bargaining agreement about a year ago.

Fortunately following this threat, management and the union came to an agreement, and signed a new collective bargaining agreement, valid through September 2025.

Icelandair pilots are now in hot water

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the ETF is now condemning the actions of Icelandair management, as well as the actions of Icelandair’s pilots. The organization isn’t happy that Icelandair pilots were essentially complicit in undermining the position of cabin crew, and argues that their actions put the professional image of pilots, as well as safety standards, at risk.

Here’s part of the announcement from the ETF:

The ETF and the ETF Pilot community deplore this unprecedented attack on the legitimate rights of workers and their union and this flagrant breach of safety obligations by Icelandair.

We strongly condemn both the behaviour of the company – offensive both towards cabin crew and pilots – as well as the actions of the pilots. Indeed, the pilots did not reject the call of the company and instead made themselves available to undermine the position of the cabin crew and thereby put the professional image of pilots as well as safety standards at risk.

The ETF Pilot community cannot stress enough that one category of workers should never be used to undermine the position of others and that no group of workers shall ever voluntarily engage in actions which could undermine the working conditions of other groups of workers.

Bottom line

I’m happy that Icelandair management and cabin crew were able to come to a new agreement. I was a bit surprised when Icelandair pilots agreed to assume the roles of cabin crew in this dispute, since typically unionized workforces at least somewhat act in solidarity.

With Icelandair having reached a new agreement with cabin crew I can’t imagine this is exactly great for labor relations between pilots and flight attendants…

(Tip of the hat to Paddle Your Own Kanoo)

  1. Disgusting. Cabin crews in airlines all over the world are treated poorly compared to pilots, and this just makes it worse.

  2. Solidarity (for most) goes out in window when money and livelihood is on the line. It’s just human nature. I’m not saying it is right or wrong, just an observation

  3. So much for CRM (Crew Resource Management) at Icelandair. I predict the working relationship between flight attendants and pilots at this carrier will be as cold as a winter’s night in Reykjavik.

    This is bad for safety. But it will also kill a lot of the fun of being an airline crew member. Because anyone who has flown for an airline will tell you, it’s the laughter, and the bantering back and forth, and the shared sense of camaraderie between colleagues – of being a family – that provide some of the greatest joys of a flying job.

  4. I know our union contract states that we will not perform the duties of another bargaining unit. In 20 years I have only refused work once using that clause. Not everyone at work feels the same way and sometimes just does the task if it’s a simple quick task. Not me. If it is normally done by another bargaining unit, then NO WAY will I do it.

  5. Not to undermine the work they do, but flight attendants only require around 3 weeks of training compared to 18 months + for pilots, not to mention recency requirements. It makes absolute business sense to retain pilots on the company books through any means possible, even at the expense of other colleagues

  6. Management blew it. Pilots won’t support them again. Can’t imagine the FAs were good if pilots were tired of their antics. Once Management went down the ending the relationship with the FAs route, they needed to make good. I wouldn’t be surprised if the FAs may be even more unhappy and troublesome now for the airline.

  7. Unions are such a PITA! They once were useful, 60 to 80+ years ago. But if they continue, they will help decimate the world economy.

  8. @Kevin – Maybe where you live, but they’re are still many countries where unions never happened or where they have very limited power. A lot of employees in those countries are treated like dirt. But it’s nice to know that in your tiny bubble, they’re not needed…

  9. @Kevin, Unions are absolutely necessary to protect the rights of workers. In this case you have an airline that was quite happy to use its own pilots as scab labor. That’s pretty low, and it was even lower for the pilots to agree to scab themselves out as cabin crew.

    A lack of unions is why the United States has so many people struggling to work multiple jobs for a few dollars an hour just to feed their kids and pay the rent on their crap-shack that’s owned by a Bentley-driving slum-lord.

  10. @Pete

    “A lack of unions is why the United States has so many people struggling to work multiple jobs for a few dollars an hour just to feed their kids and pay the rent on their crap-shack that’s owned by a Bentley-driving slum-lord”

    Ironic – you just described Union-run Detroit

  11. Sorry, but I don’t generally associate professionals with being in unions. True professionals can stand on merit, a concept that is anathema to most unions. When airlines unfortunately have to cut people in the coming weeks, how many sour or less capable employees will be retained while more capable colleagues are furloughed simply because someone has been employed longer. These cuts should be done based on merit but that won’t happen with unions in the mix.

  12. @QQ I understand the sentiments, but such rigidity can destroy both employee morale and customer service. I’ve worked in that kind of a union shop before, and let me tell you that the customer doesn’t want to hear that they will be delayed while we wait for another union member to come and complete a simple task. Sure, there is the argument that management should ensure adequate staff for quick response time, etc., but at the end of the day if all the customers switch to a competitor, that just leaves all union members out of a job.

  13. This happens all the time in the US in a similar way. There’s a reason why the word “provider” is used in medical care by insurance companies. Insurance companies want people to see less qualified people like nurse practitioners and optometrists, not real doctors. (disclaimer: optometrists never go to medical school but their own school system awards them doctorate degrees but then they try to call themselves opto.etric physicians to fool the public to think they are real physicians. Nurse practitioners are even worse. Many call themselves doctor, pure fraud).

    It’s just the same with the Icelandair plan. Using people not qualified though pilots could be retrained as FA work is not brain surgery or rocket science.

  14. Similar happened during the cabin crew strikes at BA in 2010. Unionised pilots actually volunteered and worked as cabin crew to break the strike. Clearly they thought it was acceptable to rip up loyal hardworking staff contracts and downgrade fellow colleagues to zero hours minimum wage contracts. These pilots learnt from their mistakes and ruined their reputation within the global airline industry, CRM and colleague relations. Their support for the company was also trampled on when they faced challenges to T&C’s thereafter. I doubt they would do it again. Iceland Air pilots should think very carefully.

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