Travel: Icelandair will fire all of its flight attendants and make pilots do their job

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a large passenger jet flying through a cloudy blue sky: Icelandair. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty © Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Icelandair. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty
  • Icelandair, the island nation's flag carrier, announced Friday it will fire all of its flight attendants.
  • Starting Monday, Icelandair's pilots will assume flight attendants' roles.
  • The legality and practicality of having pilots act as flight attendants are unclear.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Icelandair announced Friday it will fire all of its flight attendants, ending a labor dispute with the crew members' union that began last month. In the unprecedented move, the airline plans to have its pilots temporarily assume flight attendants' roles overseeing the safety of those onboard, starting July 20.

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"Icelandair will permanently terminate the employment of its current cabin crew members and permanently discontinue the employment relationship between the parties," Icelandair said in a statement.

Pilots won't spend much time pushing carts down the aisle, handing out drinks and meals. Services "will continue to be at a minimum, as (they have been) since the impact of COVID-19 started," the airline added in its statement. But flight attendants play a vital role in maintaining in-flight safety, particularly in the case of an emergency.

It's not clear how a pilot could successfully assume a flight attendant's role, especially with just two days' notice. It's also not apparent if such a setup is legal in the regions in which Icelandair flies, including the US and the European Union.

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In the US, flight attendants must complete a variety of trainings to become a certified crew member. Delta flight attendants, for example, go through a two-month training where they're drilled on topics including swimming, CPR, and how to evacuate an aircraft within 90 seconds.

Representatives for the airline, the Cabin Crew Association of Iceland, the Icelandic Transport Authority, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency did not immediately respond to Business Insider requests for comment. As the airline is not an American carrier, the Federal Aviation Administration does not have regulatory authority over it, an FAA spokesperson said.

Icelandair, like the rest of the airline industry, has seen passenger numbers collapse since the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down international travel earlier this year. In May 2019, some 419,000 passengers flew on Icelandair. In May 2020, just 3,100 hopped aboard. Last month, the airline announced a financial restructuring, aiming "to secure current operations, strengthen the liquidity and ensure the future competitiveness of the Company."

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