Why gay Air France crew cannot skip flights to Iran

The head of Air France’s LGBT union tells The Local gay stewards should fly to Iran, just as they should "do their job" and work on flights to 20 other destinations where gay rights are not recognized.

Why gay Air France crew cannot skip flights to Iran
Photo: Jonathan Gross/Flickr

The creation of a petition calling for gay Air France stewards to be allowed to refuse to work on future flights between Paris and Tehran, prompted headlines around the world on Tuesday.

“It is inconceivable to force someone to go to a country where his kind are condemned for who they are,” read the petition on the site

It came just days after Air France announced it would allow female cabin crew members who did not want to wear the veil in Tehran to opt out of working on the new Iran route without fear of being punished.

While the petition may have garnered thousands of signatures of support, a gay Air France steward, who is the head of the airline’s LGBT union, has told The Local the idea of not working on flights to Iran is ridiculous.

Sébastien Gidon, president of the union Personn’Ailes, said gay stewards should be expected to fly to Tehran, even though the country has the death penalty for homosexuals caught in the act.

“We cannot create lists of personnel that includes information on their sexual orientation,” he told The Local.

“It is not the same issue as for the female staff, who don’t want to fly because they don’t want to wear the veil,” said Gidon. “We know they are women, but that’s not the same for gay people. Their sexual orientation needs to remain a secret and not be written on a list.”

Gidon says it’s hypocritical for gay stewards to think they can opt out of Tehran flights only, given that Iran is not the only country in the world where the rights of homosexuals are pretty much non-existent.

“If they took that stance, there would be around 20 other countries where they shouldn’t fly to, including Saudi Arabia and even international hubs like Singapore,” he said.

“They can’t just say 'I am not going to Iran'.”

According to his union’s estimates, around 40 percent of Air France cabin crew and pilots are men, without around 20 percent of those being gay.

Gidon says that while they are shocked and saddened by the horrendous conditions for gay people in Iran, air stewards should understand the moral dilemmas and restrictions that come with the job.

“When you apply for the job, you know you are going to go to places like Saudi Arabia and other countries where homosexuals are punished.

“There is obviously a fear that the cabin crew may get into trouble, but we say to them: ‘Do you really think you are going to walk around hand in hand with a boyfriend or kiss them on the streets of Tehran? Of course not.'

“We understand their worries and we will help them overcome them,” he said.

Gidon says that sometimes, as is the case for many jobs, staff just have to accept the situation they are in and keep their opinions hidden.

“We all have personal opinions. When you see women hidden behind a veil in Saudi Arabia it makes you feel bad. It’s hard to see. But you can’t always express your opinions – or if you want to, then it’s time to change jobs.”

He says many gay workers of Air France were angered by the appearance of the petition this week and believe it may have done damage to their image.

“People already have the image that French people complain all the time and this petition makes it look like the gay air stewards were complaining about having to go to a certain country. But it’s not true.”

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Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs

Air France management said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs
An Air France plane lands at JFK airport in New York. Image: STAN HONDA / AFP

The carrier wants to get rid of 6,560 positions of the 41,000 at Air France, and 1,020 positions of the 2,420 at Hop!, according to a statement issued after meetings between managers and staff representatives.

“For three months, Air France's activity and turnover have plummeted 95 percent, and at the height of the crisis, the company lost 15 million euros a day,” said the group, which anticipated a “very slow” recovery.

The aviation industry has been hammered by the travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus outbreak, with firms worldwide still uncertain when they will be able to get grounded planes back into the air.

Air France said it wanted to begin a “transformation that rests mainly on changing the model of its domestic activity, reorganising its support functions and pursuing the reduction of its external and internal costs”.

The planned job cuts amount to 16 percent of Air France's staff and 40 percent of those at Hop!

With the focus on short-haul flights, management is counting mainly on the non-replacement of retiring workers or voluntary departures and increasing geographic mobility.

However, unions warn that Air France may resort to layoffs for the first time, if not enough staff agree to leave or move to other locations. 

'Crisis is brutal'

Shaken heavily by the coronavirus crisis, like the entire aviation sector, the Air France group launched a reconstruction plan aiming to reduce its loss-making French network by 40 percent through the end of 2021.

“The crisis is brutal and these measures are on an unprecedented scale,” CEO Anne Rigail conceded in a message to employees, a copy of which AFP obtained. They also include, she said, “salary curbs with a freeze on general and individual increases (outside seniority and promotions) for all in 2021 and 2022,” including executives of Air France.

The airline told AFP earlier this week that: “The lasting drop in activity and the economic context due to the COVID-19 crisis require the acceleration of Air France's transformation.”

Air France-KLM posted a loss of 1.8 billion euros in the first quarter alone, and has warned it could be years before operations return to pre-coronavirus levels.

Air France has been offered seven billion euros in emergency loans from the French state or backed by it, while the Dutch government approved a 3.4 billion euro package of bailout loans for KLM last week.

The group joins a long list of airlines that have announced job cuts in recent weeks.

Lufthansa is to slash 22,000 jobs, British Airways 12,000, Delta Air Lines 10,000 and Qantas 6,000.