When we talk about airlines mistreating their employees, we usually think about allegations of how oneworld member and American Airlines partner Qatar Airways’ flight attendants are treated.
It’s rare that we’d even entertain the notion of pilots being treated as anything less than Skygods — in some measure we had US Airways acquire American Airlines because American’s pilots decided that they wouldn’t work with CEO Tom Horton; he had to go. At Kuwait Airways it was literally two years after a pilot invited a porn star to take the controls that the pilot was even suspended.
And yet in China there are allegations of indentured servitude of pilots, because in the nation’s growing aviation industry they simply don’t have enough pilots and don’t want to let go of those they do have.
Skyteam member – and Delta partner – China Southern apparently refuses to honor the resignation of a pilot who wanted to fly for another airline despite a court order telling them to do so.
Liu, dressed in his dark uniform and wearing a red sash over his right shoulder, wants the airline to accept his resignation, which he tendered July 7 of last year.
The pilot, in his 30s, has flown for the carrier for seven years. He first worked for Beijing Airlines, which was later acquired by China Southern.
A Chinese court ordered China Southern, the world’s sixth-largest airline as measured by passengers carried, to release Liu from employment, but the company, according to Beijing Youth Daily, refused.
China Southern is alleged to have first insisted on recouping the pilot’s training costs (remember, he was trained by a predecessor airline and has already flown for them 7 years). When the new airline this pilot was going to fly for offered to pay, China Southern still refused.
The Guangzhou-based airline offered the pilot that if he flew “for the high season” that he could go. So he did that. And the airline still wouldn’t release him.
The situation isn’t an isolated one in China, it seems:
Zhang Qihui, an expert on Chinese aviation law, told the Beijing Youth Daily that every year between 100 and 200 pilots face the same situation as Liu as they try to switch employers.
Usually a growing economy ultimately leads to improved working conditions, although in this case it could be that a cratering Chinese economy makes the pilots better off — at least allowed to leave their employer, since they won’t have a shortage of pilots — though it may mean other airlines lack the demand for their services.
I rarely have as much sympathy for pilots as I do for other airline work groups. But China may force me to rethink that presumption. At a minimum I want content pilots, rather than pilots who feel trapped by circumstances, operating the aircraft that I fly in as a passenger.