How two airlines in Europe and the US coped with the varied consequences of ongoing Covid concerns – financial approaches, masks, quarantines, modified training protocols, morale issues. Halldale industry reporter Amanda Towner describes her discoveries. 

While it was common for cabin crew to seek other forms of employment during their furloughs, once it was time to return to the airline – the younger generation did not. Anna Mellberg, Chief Cabin Safety and CRM Instructor at Novair, said many young people have not returned to the airline – they have studied for different things while travel was down, such as nursing or even grocery store inventory for job security. Now that travel is picking up, Mellberg has seen three individuals decline to return, as they feel more secure in their newly established fields.

“It’s a turbulent world,” Mellberg told CAT.

Novair, the Swedish airline in Stockholm, is seeing travel pick up by 90% compared to last year’s 35% rate of pre-pandemic travel. Mellberg also noted some other interesting trends since training recommenced this spring.

With ongoing guidelines changing, to mask or not to mask is still a common question for crew and passengers. On the airline, all those that are six years or older are required to wear a mask, but the policy is queried often since masks are currently not required on the subways in Sweden. 

When training went live, they had to consider how Covid protocols would affect how they could train crews. The airline had three live conversion courses and had to adjust – proper CPR training on mannequins and smoke hoods for firefighter training could not be fully utilized, just demonstrated, to minimize contact. Certain items were not able to be used in training, such as fire extinguishers and the use of a swimming pool for ditching practice.

However, aircraft were in plentiful supply for training, with at least one grounded every day. This was a luxury, said Mellberg, and perfect for initial training, which requires more hands-on training for familiarity. Crews were able to truly understand how the aircraft was set up and this opportunity drastically changed the way crew learned. Line instructors said the new line training went much smoother than in the past, because they “felt like they had been there forever.”

If an aircraft is not available, crews continue with computer-based training. Even before the pandemic, recurrent training utilized a hybrid approach, with CBT before practical training, and the airline will continue to do training this way.

Surprisingly with live training, none of the crew had to miss a day or stay at home to quarantine. It was instead the instructors who needed to stay at home at certain times and coordinate training days with others. They commonly had two instructors testing for covid/quarantining and two performing the training in person.

As for morale, the crew continued to stay close, asking when someone last flew and communicating their uncertainty about flying. With the ability to discuss their concerns openly and honestly, flight attendants could see that they were not alone.

No Furloughs at Frontier

Frontier Airlines was fortunate not to furlough or let employees go during the first year of the pandemic, said Stefanie Coppedge, Manager, Inflight Training and Professional Development. Instead, all pilots and flight attendants were provided the option to take a leave of absence, which still provided minimum pay and continued health insurance and other benefits. 

Financially, it worked better for the airline to provide a leave of absence rather than to furlough employees. In total, nearly 1,300 flight attendants took advantage of the leave of absence. 

New hires continued to receive assigned materials via Schoox (Frontier’s learning management system) ahead of their in-person training as they had done before the pandemic began. The materials are provided three weeks in advance of arriving to the Wyoming training center and equates to eight hours of initial training at home. This pre-arrival training is “open book” and not timed so individuals can progress at their own pace. The deadline for the materials is three days prior to travel to the training center where all initial flight attendant training is conducted. All recurrent flight attendant training is conducted at training centers in either Orlando or Denver, as these are the two largest flight attendant domiciles. 

Frontier did not apply for any FAA exemptions for flight attendant training. Instead, the airline was able to modify a variety of its protocols and procedures to create a safer environment for employees. By continuing with the training instead of re-training at a later date, Frontier’s inflight training eliminated the potential for human error resulting in a required training being missed.

Frontier limited class sizes for initial flight attendant training to two ballroom-size separate classrooms, each holding a maximum of 60 candidates. Tape on the floor was used to identify areas in which instructors and students were allowed to stand to maintain social distancing. Instructors sanitized all student touch points and enforced a special glove policy: gloves were worn throughout training and were changed immediately after touching equipment. An instructor would wipe down equipment in between each person’s use. For CPR training, individual CPR breathing barriers were distributed to each student, and cleaned after each use using a two-step process: a bleach bath followed by a sanitation cycle in the dishwasher, an extra safety precaution. 

New hires must also be vaccinated to attend class. The last class before this umbrella policy graduated 24 September. From thereon, this will be a requirement for all new hires.

As for employee morale, Frontier was not a stranger to the personal and professional sacrifices individuals made during the pandemic. The airline consistently engaged with flight attendants, emphasizing how much they appreciated and supported them. Frontier emphasized coaching flight attendants on resilience and motivation. 

“We wanted to empower flight attendants and let them know we are there for them,” said Coppedge. 

Having conversations on resilience and staying motivated helped remind and show crew members how to stay strong and maintain situational awareness, particularly within one’s own life. Simple things regarding the importance of self-care with exercise, yoga, diet, etc. This also became an opportunity for Frontier to remind crew of their two initiatives in case they needed support: the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and the HOPE League program, an employee-funded non-profit donation program for employees in need. Coppedge believes just reminding everyone about these initiatives helped a lot of employees during this time. 

Frontier also emphasized de-escalation training as all airlines have seen an uptick in hostile passengers since the pandemic. 

Additionally, the airline will soon have new Airbus 321NX and 321XLR (different cabin configurations), which will require additional flight attendant training. Thanks to the networking and relationship-building platform at the World Aviation Training Summit in June, Coppedge was able to determine the simulator they wanted to purchase after networking with JetBlue manager Thomas Kaminski at WATS. Coppedge hopes to receive the new training devices in December 2021 and begin classes in January 2022. 

“We are all one family in the air,” said Coppedge. 

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