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IcelandAir recently announced that it will be laying off its entire flight attendant staff, and plans to have pilots fill the role in the meantime.

Can an airline lay off its flight attendants and replace with pilots without requiring further training or certification? Generally, pilots are trained to fly the airplane and oversee the safety of the flight - but are they qualified to act as flight attendants? Is there any area a flight attendant maybe more qualified than a pilot, excluding passenger service and a smile on the face?

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    $\begingroup$ I think most pilots wouldn't work as flight attendants regardless of airline's wishes. $\endgroup$ – GdD Jul 18 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD If I understand the linked article correctly, the pilots will still be working as pilots on some flights, but as flight attendants on other flights because they currently have more pilots than they need. If your options are doing that or quit / being fired in the current situation, I guess most pilots would do it and be happy they still have a job. $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Jul 18 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ I agree to your understanding. I read it as two pilots are in front and other off duty pilot (maybe four for a 737) work as flight attendants. $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Jul 18 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ I think there are requirements to be flight attendant that pilots don't meet (because it is not their job). I'm thinking of handling hardly-controllable passengers (whatever the cause (medical, alcohol, hooligan,...)), everything related to first aid in flight (remember that historically flight attendant were nurses), and I may miss lots of aspects (I'm not a steward, I don't know much about this job). $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 18 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ As an aside, "firing" an employee is generally for cause, i.e. they did something wrong, and it carries a negative connotation. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 18 at 15:45
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When I was flight crew on CRJs for a private operator we got abbreviated FA training for pilots, which was mostly a kind of crowd control course, taught by a contract FA. Their training is about managing a chaotic cabin full or panicking passengers. FA's are more or less under-cover riot control cops who spend their careers working as servers/attendants and are very unlikely to use their actual training.

So theoretically, airlines could offer flight crews FA postions, if they were willing to take the pay cut and were willing to be reminded every day where they are not, performing that undercover waiter/waitress function. Yes, additional training would be required because airline flight crews don't get significant FA (crowd control) training and a pilot would have to take the FA course.

This is an opinion, but I would say not a difficult call; you would NOT get any takers. Every pilot will take the furlough and go look for another flying job, or change careers. There is just no way that someone who loves flying enough to jump through all the hoops to get into a flight deck would take that kind of "demotion" (maybe... maybe... one person here or there would agree to it out of sheer desperation, but not enough to be significant).

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  • $\begingroup$ I know several pilots who started their airline career from being FA (often while working on their license or flying as GA instructors). Being in the airline still raises your prospects of getting the flying job. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Jul 20 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ That can work but you will never see them going the other direction tho. Huge step down. $\endgroup$ – John K Jul 20 at 2:10
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Most pilots are not currently qualified to serve as flight attendants, but they could be trained easily enough following an abbreviated syllabus.

Since pilots are already familiar with all the aircraft emergency equipment and procedures, training would just need to focus on specific tasks in different areas of the cabin. That, plus operation of beverage and food service equipment.

It wouldn't be a difficult transition if the pilots were willing.

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  • $\begingroup$ yes requirement are less in the sense it takes less time to form a flight attendant, but requirements are quite different. Pilots are more into technical stuff while flight attendant are more into handling humans. As an extreme case, if you are unable to understand a panicking passenger, it is OK to be a pilot (1st priority: fly the plane, even if it involves locking yourself alone in the cockpit) but not to be a steward. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 18 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Manu H, are you saying you think that a dual qualified pilot/flight attendant would be less capable of handling a panicking passenger than a person who was qualified only as a flight attendant because they would be hampered by their technical pilot knowledge? Because I heartily disagree. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 18 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall I'm saying it is not the same job and being able to think like a pilot does not make you able to be a flight attendant (and the other way around). As a flight attendant you must deal with passenger that doesn't have formation or knowledge, and you have to communicate with them even if they hardly speak your language and in emergency situation. Not the same as a pilot whose formation include aeronautic english. Definitely not the same job, not the same primary concerns, not the same way to communicate,... $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 18 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Hall: NOT easy, judging by my experience with similar job shifts. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 19 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall I disagree. Some people are best at dealing with human relationship (and are more fitted to be cabin crew) and other with technical relationship (and are better fitted to be pilot). Following your mind, anyone (even those passing out seeing blood) can make any job (even doctor). My point is a pilot is not necessarily fitted to be a cabin crew, whatever the training. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 19 at 6:39
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At least some of the remarks here show a very poor understanding of what cabin crew are and what they do.

No, pilots cannot replace cabin crew without substantial formal training.

Cabin crew are highly trained professionals, just like pilots. It's true that unlike pilots they are not in command of the machinery, and that their role requires them to do many much less glamorous, high-prestige tasks than pilots have to do.

That doesn't make them any less professional or trained. Instead, they manage people in large numbers and their behaviour and look after their needs, in an environment that is both unnatural and stressful, and tends to provoke poor behaviour.

Amongst other things, they typically speak multiple languages, have first-aid skills and can deal equally effectively with a weeping widower, a gang of drunken oil-rig workers returning, someone having a panic attack, an over-entitled business executive, etc etc etc.

In cases of emergency, they are responsible for ensuring the safety of dozens or hundreds of frightened people, by getting them to stay calm and follow instructions.

Anyone who imagines that the people with these skills and training could effectively be replaced with people lacking them is dreaming.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Daniela Procida, I agree 100 percent with your answer, but I disagree that a pilot would for some reason be unable to attain the skills needed as some have implied in comments on my answer. Most pilots are just as capable of completing the "substantial formal training" you allude to as any random applicant off the street. Agree or disagree? $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 20 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ Of course there's no intrinsic reason that pilots wouldn't be able to attain the skills... but they'd need to attain them through formal training and they wouldn't automatically have them. $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida Jul 20 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I never said they wouldn't need any cross training, yet still some took exception with my answer. I may add some rationale behind my position... $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 20 at 13:54
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It could work both ways. Having a steward that is qualified to fly or "sit in" as a flight engineer in high workload situations (take off/landing/illness to pilot or copilot/inclement weather/aircraft malfuction) would be an asset, especially on a smaller carrier. Pilots could also add diversity to their job by rotating to serve passengers, if they so desired.

But the "people factor" is very important, some may wish to try it, others no. First aid training and security, as well as diplomacy, would be talents required for stewards but would also benefit pilots.

All personnel on a passenger plane are vital components of a team, and some may find additional responsibilities a welcome improvement to their daily work experience.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure that you need to be a pilot to be an FAA flight engineer, and there aren’t many airlines who have them. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 18 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall A flight engineer's license is separate from a pilot's license. There was no FAA requirement that an f.e. be a pilot unless the hiring airline required it. Back in the day when most large civilian aircraft had an f.e., many of them were licensed pilots or working on their pilot's license because the career path was f.e. first, then f.o., then captain. As the 3-man cockpit faded, a lot of the engineers were ex-military and had no pilot license. On the 747-100/200s that I flew in the 1990s, most of the f.e.s were not pilots. $\endgroup$ – Terry Jul 18 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the perspective Terry. I flew with enlisted flight engineers on the KC-130 and they always joked that they had no future on the outside. Based on what you said, probably not because it was prohibited, but because they weren’t competitive due to the pipeline being full of pilots. When I sought my ATP and was applying for flying jobs it was recommended and common to take the FE written to have a resume bullet. I never did... (Maybe why I’m not flying big iron today?!) $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Jul 18 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ A former colleague was an FE on 747s in the early 90s. He only had a PPL in addition to his FE license. so when the operator announced all dedicated FEs were being replaced with pilot Second Officers, he was on the outs. $\endgroup$ – John K Jul 18 at 18:56

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