Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Entitlement Gone Awry

"Airline jobs were really reserved for men."
"When we [women, first hired as commercial airlines pilots in early 1970s] started, there were no maternity leaves, because there were no female pilots."
Captain Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo, 67, retired

"Having a child is a personal choice and asking the rest of us [unionized pilots] to fund your choice will be a difficult sell to the pilot group."
Message from local union leader to female pilots

"It's by far not my favourite place to make my child's next meal [airplane lavatory]. But it's a sacrifice I knew I would have to accept because I came back to work [after childbirth]."
"It's incredibly distracting and painful [delaying pumping breast milk more than three to four hours], like when you need to go to the bathroom and can't."
First Officer Brandy Beck, 41, Frontier Airlines pilot
First Officer Brandy Beck, Photo Theo Stroomer, The New York Times

"This is part of breaking down the cockpit door -- that's the glass ceiling here."
"How do you make a job work when it was designed without you in mind?"
Joanna L. Grossman, labour law and gender issues expert
Now there's a tempest in a cockpit. Women seem to feel entitled to any and all occupations, the equal of men in professional aptitude and performance, and perhaps that is true in most cases, yet possibly not all, given circumstances and specific situations where a woman's determination to follow her aspirations may impact deleteriously on the performance of co-workers, and more to the point, impact on the safety of other people.

Take, for example, Brandy Beck, mother of a newborn who had no wish to be assigned a job other than pilot while breastfeeding her child. Her concern was that she was a pilot and she wanted to continue doing her job. On the other hand, she was also a mother and she was obliged, since she opted to provide her child with her breast milk, to pump her breasts on a regular basis. To achieve that end, here is what happened.

When the plane she was co-piloting reached cruising altitude and was placed on autopilot, this would be her opportunity to inform the flight captain she needed to take a break. Operating policy has it that in the absence of a co-pilot the sole pilot remaining in the cockpit needs to wear an oxygen mask. A flight attendant is tasked to barricade the aisle outside the lavatory to give the lactating pilot time and privacy and ensure passengers do not attempt to intrude.

That done, a flight attendant is assigned to join the captain in the cockpit to satisfy the rule requiring that at minimum two people must be in a cockpit at all times. At which point Ms. Beck, co-pilot is free to remain in the lavatory pumping breast milk for a 20-minute session specific to that singular purpose. That singular purpose calls away a co-pilot from an important in-flight function to satisfy her personal needs and that of her child.

There is inconvenience to the captain in the cockpit, to the flight attendant who must accommodate the lactating pilot's privacy, and any passengers who might wish to make use of the lavatory may not for the 20-minute pumping session involved. And the larger issue is that during flight, when anything might conceivably occur, one of two pilots on board a plane is no longer in the cockpit where her professional duties lay.

That pilot is paid up to $200,000 for her professional expertise, and certainly not to satisfy her personal needs. The number of female pilots is vanishingly small; women account for roughly four percent of the 159,000 certified airline pilots in the United States, a stagnant number. While globally, about three percent of pilots are women, according to surveys.

Because female pilots are so few in number their needs related to maternity, parenting in the early years and related issues don't come up in collective bargaining agreements that unions negotiate. Little wonder that some members of the majority gender oppose proposals that would benefit female pilots of childbearing age, citing the prohibitive cost of doing so.

Ground assignments on a temporary basis present as an alternative for airlines pilots living handy to company headquarters, but not too many do. The issue of accommodating female pilots of childbearing age is a complex one. What is not complex is the complications that ensue in providing accommodations.

Equal entitlements sound very cozily accommodating, but in the process of that accommodation too much is disrupted and too many are unaccommodated. The expert on labour law and gender issues has answered her own question: How do you make a job work when it was designed without you in mind? You step aside from active duty in the air for a temporary period, and that's how the job works.

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