Frontline airport workers like cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, skycaps, wheelchair agents, security personnel, cargo handlers, and ramp workers help keep airports running. Yet many of these workers—largely women and people of color—are still underpaid, not provided adequate affordable healthcare, and offered little to no paid time off or sick days. Many aviation service job postings currently available advertise pay rates under $15 an hour, some as low as $8.20.
During the pandemic, airlines received $54 billion in our public dollars in payroll assistance, on top of another $25 billion in low cost loans. This aid was supposed to go toward protecting good jobs and keeping the industry afloat, but it doesn’t seem like airlines have kept up their end of the bargain.
Instead of prioritizing good jobs, airlines rewarded CEOs and shareholders. In 2020, the CEOs of the four largest US airlines were paid $5,000 an hour, on average.
Across the country, airlines have also opposed efforts to raise standards for airport workers. Airlines for America, a powerful aviation trade association with significant lobbying activities, has opposed local efforts to raise standards for airport workers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, often strong-arming local elected bodies with the possibility of fewer flights if they support airport workers.
Too much has been sacrificed to allow airlines to return to profitability on the backs of the Black, Brown, AAPI and immigrant airport workers who put their safety on the line during the pandemic. It’s clear that airlines have the ability — and the responsibility — to end inequity in their networks, yet they continue to treat critical airport jobs as dispensable. The result is deep inequity and under-trained and underprepared frontline workers, which ultimately puts airports, passengers and communities at risk.