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Why it’s time to roll out a seniority list for Ryanair pilots

Seizing a long overdue moment, Ryanair pilots have asked to negotiate as a matter of urgency a Master Seniority List for all pilots across the company. Seniority lists are a tool used in most airlines and determine a number of things within an airline including when a pilot is eligible for upgrade, which aircraft type they fly and their schedule. It can also be used as a criterion for bidding in various scenarios: e.g. if the pilot asks for a base transfer or leave, his/her position on the seniority list could play a role. It is a fair, simple and transparent system embraced by airlines worldwide. But not by Ryanair. 

As a general benefit, seniority lists limit significantly favouritism and other undemocratic practices, such as indirect punishment, from interfering with the career of a pilot. By contrast, a non-transparent base transfer and leave system in an airline would leave many unhappy, create unnecessary tension between the employees, and can raise questions about a company’s human resources management. Taking out the subjective factor in determining who is next in line for a command upgrade, one of the most exciting career moves for pilots, is a wise thing to have. Publishing a transparent list where all pilots can see where they stand provides stability, predictability, and trust in the system.

Seniority lists limit favouritism and provide job stability

However, seniority lists are not perfect. Seniority could override other criteria such as motivation and ambition. Even if you are the right person with the right skills to take the left seat, you still have to wait for your name to get up the ladder before you can sit there. Also, if you leave a company for a different one, regardless of the amount of experience you have gained, your seniority does not follow you. You fall back at the bottom of the pecking order at the new company. 

For airlines, one of the major advantages of a seniority list is that pilots are more likely to stay with one airline and for more than just a few years. Seniority lists are therefore a powerful tool to help with pilot retention issues. This actually seems quite in tune with Ryanair’s plans to attract new pilots but also crucially to keep experienced pilots.

Seniority lists are a powerful tool to help with pilot retention issues

And if that isn’t making a case for seniority lists, Ryanair pilots have lined up additional arguments: “When I receive a notice of a mandatory base change or I am denied a request for a change of base, such decisions have a devastating effect on family life,” says a pilot. “Such decisions should not be made without due process particularly on the issue of how I or a colleague is selected for such a transfer, an upgrade or annual leave, or we are indeed denied a request. What is needed is a transparent mechanism which provides for fair selection of individuals and allows to objectively review such decisions once they have been made.” Pilots are indeed making a fair request for a fair system.