Union challenges changes to Air Canada’s flight attendant ratio

CUPE files Federal Court complaint citing threat to passenger safety, security

Air Canada’s move to reduce the number of flight attendants on its aircraft is being challenged by the union at the Federal Court.

Launched by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents more than 7,000 flight attendants at Air Canada, the judicial review challenges Transport Canada’s decision to exempt the airline from passenger-to-flight-attendant ratios. The transportation regulator allowed Air Canada to have one flight attendant for every 50 passengers, as opposed to 40 passengers.

The exemption will impact passenger safety and security, according to the union.

“In an emergency situation — like an evacuation, fire, cabin decompression, a disruptive passenger or terrorist attack — flight attendants are the first line of defense when things go wrong on an aircraft,” said Michel Cournoyer, president of CUPE’s airline division. “Fewer flight attendants means more risks for passengers. We’re confident the courts will see this simple fact.”

Other airlines, such as Air Canada’s direct competitor, WestJet, have been operating with the one-to-40 ratio since last fall. Both Transport Canada and the companies have denied that the changes threaten safety, arguing instead that they are aligning themselves with international regulations. American and European airlines apply the one-to-50 ratio.

Since 1999, CUPE has fought such changes to flight-attendant-to-passenger ratios, including a battle at Sunwing Airlines, which moved to reduce the number of attendants in October 2013.

“Bending to airline industry pressures to reduce the number of flight attendants for the sake of increasing profits is inexcusable,” Cournoyer added.

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