Breeze Airways confirmed its intentions to focus flight attendant hiring on a joint program with Utah Valley University. The program, first reported on Monday, brings a unique approach to staffing the airline. The initial crop of flight attendants will all be college students at Utah Valley University, working towards a degree through on-line classes while also flying around the country.
Starting starting an airline in the middle of a pandemic is eyebrow raising. It is forcing every airline to rethink how we do things and to do things differently, to do things better. And so this is probably not the last time you’re going to [see Breeze] doing something different.– Chief Operating Officer Tom Anderson
Speaking with PaxEx.Aero, Chief Operating Officer Tom Anderson gushed with excitement at the opportunity to “respond to the societal issue” of student debt, helping young adults secure a degree with minimal cost.
Recalling his history of working multiple jobs through school and still graduating with more debt than his parents paid for the home he grew up in, Anderson sees this as a new and creative way to help some students address the financial challenge of attending college. “We’ve come up with a clever approach to provide great employment for these folks and not have young people under-employed or unemployed and going heavily into debt while getting a college education.”
And when they show up for their first job interview after graduation they’ll have “no debt, a great degree and feet that have been held to the fire” in the work world, all thing that employers value.
The plan has, needless to say, generated a certain amount of controversy, even before all the details were known. Educational level is not a protected class, but that’s not the only challenge faced.
A mobile employee base
The airline will provide housing to its flight attendants at the crew base. In many ways this is a practical matter. Anderson explains that the company has not finalized its route map yet and hiring people into a specific crew base is not immediately viable. By including the housing as part of the employment package the company can more easily adjust staffing at different locations on demand. And because the number of flights at the different bases/hubs is expected to vary month-to-month, so too is the level of staffing at each location. Flight attendants should expect that their work base can shift monthly to accommodate the airline’s needs.
The company is also clear that the housing is for one person (i.e. no significant others joining them at the base) and that “home” would be somewhere other than the crew base they’re housed at.
Graduation brings change
The program also limits the tenure of the cabin crew; as they graduate it will be time to find another opportunity.
Anderson expects that those looking to remain at Breeze will find a role in a different department at the company, “We’re going to be growing and employing folks and have need for people in airports and in leadership and in-flight and all kinds of different things around the company and when they get done with their degree they’re more than welcome to apply for any of those opportunities.”
He also leaves open the likelihood that students will choose instead to pursue a career in whatever field they studied at UVU. Which could bring them back to the airlines.
UVU offers a Flight Academy so that new career could see the flight attendant move from the cabin to the flight deck. Perhaps the first couple years of the academic portion of the pilot training they would work in the aisle, eventually progressing to flight training. Anderson believes that would help them “be a much better pilot, having worked in the cabin.”
Other options in the long-term
The program has already attracted significant interest. More than 250 applicants cleared the initial screening and qualified for the interview phase of the recruiting process, even before the carrier began publicizing the openings. Based on the current level of interest Breeze expects to fill out its initial flight attendant classes from the program with little trouble.
And as the airline grows, perhaps the staffing plan will change. Anderson is keen “as an employer, to appeal to a broad spectrum of folks in different stations in life” but does not expect that to need to dip into that diversity for cabin crew initially. He continues, “As we start building our bases and cities then it’d be logical to layer in different types of flight attendants. But one step at a time.”
The program might be the right fit for some UVU students, though maintaining a 3.0 GPA as a full-time student while flying 15 days/month will prove challenging for many. But Anderson notes that “when we have to fly a lot is when students are off school, and when we need to fly less is when they’re in school.” He is hopeful that the work load will balance out between school and the skies.
Half the student body already works 20+ hours/week with 27% working more than 30 hours/week suggesting that it is possible to balance both, though those numbers are likely skewed by the part-time student population. But only 13% of full-time students at the school complete their degree program in 4 years; that number rises to just 30% at 6 years. Keeping students enrolled and on track to graduate should benefit the university’s stats nicely. The 40% who identify as married or in a partnership will likely reduce the available work pool given the housing arrangements.
In the meantime, the company is pushing towards an April 2021 launch. And there’s a very, very good chance the flight attendants working those trips will be Wolverines fans.
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