Japanese Flight Attendants Taking on New Roles
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't just caused mass unemployment in the United States. It's affected countries around the world. One of the hardest-hit industries is travel and tourism. With lockdowns, quarantines and closures, fewer people are venturing far from home. Many countries aren't allowing foreigners to enter their borders. In Japan, flight attendants who are out of work or on furlough have started to take on new roles in customer service. They're now working as shrine maidens at Shinto shrines.
Airlines Encourage Flight Attendants to Take New Jobs
Nobody knows when the travel and tourism industries will rebound from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The flight attendants who work for Japan Airlines have started to transfer their customer service skills from airplanes to Shinto shrines. The airline itself encouraged this change. The airline's executives think that the soft approach of their international flight attendants is a perfect fit for the customer service needed for guests at Shinto shrines. Japan Airlines set up a training program for furloughed flight attendants to be trained to work in the shrines. Flight attendants who have fewer hours on the airplanes can also get this training to work as shrine maidens.
History of Japan Airlines and Its Treatment of Furloughed Workers
More than 11 years ago, Japan Airlines filed for bankruptcy. As a part of the bankruptcy agreement, it furloughed 16,000 employees. The airline doesn't want to repeat this experience. Even though the business environment was tough in 2020, Japan Airlines has encouraged its flight attendants to seek temporary or part-time work in other industries until it is ready to restore full-time hours.
Shrine Training Program
In December, a flight crew based in Fukuoa completed shrine customer service training at Munakata Taisha. This Shinto shrine is a busy tourist destination. The workers accepted temporary jobs as miko, which is the Japanese word for a shrine maiden. A shrine maiden is like an acolyte or deacon. They function as a supplementary priestess.
Job Function of a Shrine Maiden
The job duties of a shrine maiden are to act as a hostess for the visitors of the shrine. A shrine maiden will distribute amulets and talismen to visitors. They also enforce social distancing requirements and wearing of masks among guests. Japanese officials expect shrine visits to peak during the New Year's weekend. According to a Munakata Taisha shrine spokesperson, the customer service provided by the workers from Japan Airlines will inspire the existing shrine staff. The spokesperson also hopes that the Japan Airlines flight attendants will enjoy the traditional Japanese culture and spirit at the shrines.
Similarities Between Working As a Flight Attendant and Shrine Maiden
There are some clear differences in servicing a business-class cabin on an international flight and handing out items at the entrance of a shrine. Even so, shrine spokespeople and Japan Airlines executives have identified a lot of similarities between these jobs. Both jobs have a focus on customer service, courtesy and a specific way of doing things. A flight attendant pours tea in a particular manner, and an amulet must be handled and presented to a visitor in a specific way.
This Job Switch Could Save Japan Airlines
It's not easy to train flight attendants and hire the right people. If Japan Airlines had to fire its workers then hire a new staff, it would incur extra costs. For now, the airline wants to cut operational expenses without laying off its workers. Japan Airlines currently employs 35,000 workers. It is placing as many of them as it can in alternative temporary jobs with other employers. The airline is helping its employees find temporary work at call centers, factories, government agencies and the shrines. The shrine maiden jobs are one of the most noticeable new roles for the flight attendants.
Other Ways Japan Airlines Is Trying to Save Jobs and Money
Japan Airlines is trying to save jobs and money any way it can. It's doing a test run of swapping the meal on long flights for a better amenity kit. The meals usually cost $33, and they require a lot of labor and create a lot of waste. The flight attendants who have found employment at the Munakata Taisha shrine are slated to start their maiden duties on New Year's day. When the economy recovers, their flight attendant jobs will be available to them if they choose to return.