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I always wondered, is it a must for airlines to have at least one cabin crew member who is able to speak the language of the inbound and outbound countries?

I am asking this because I am thinking in case of emergencies, how will the crew be able to communicate with a large number of people onboard in case no one speaks their language.

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    You, the one working for an airline, are wondering this? I'm smelling another shameless hat-winning attempt. :P – JoErNanO Dec 15 '15 at 15:32
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    @JoErNanO airline? me? no man. I am just a cabin crew member in a large airline. i do not know about these things. – Nean Der Thal Dec 15 '15 at 15:32
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    Regardless of the actual reason the OP may have for asking (tsk tsk), this is still perhaps a decent, though broad, question that real passengers may want to know. :) – CGCampbell Dec 15 '15 at 15:56
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    As I clicked on this, I was thinking "Great, this is one of those questions that the guy who works on an airline will answer, they're always interesting, he knows the inside scoop on... oh, he's the one who asked it" :-) – user56reinstatemonica8 Dec 15 '15 at 16:01
  • I think that for a lot of places just trying to define which languages that would be is opening a huge can of worms. Just image trying to find an Irish (Gaelic) speaker for every flight to or from Dublin. – Some wandering yeti Dec 15 '15 at 16:11
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I think this is not mandatory. I don't have a solid reference to back this up, but I think there are some good arguments to come to this conclusion.

  1. Which language? Your concept of "the language of the inbound and outbound countries" is troublesome. Which language are we talking about? Should all national languages be spoken? Zimbabwe has 16 national languages. That sounds rather complicated. Only one national language? In Ireland this is Irish (with English being an official, not a national language). Good luck trying to find enough Irish speaking crew. The issue of languages to be used is very sensitive in many places. Finding a rule that is globally acceptable is a minefield in which no politician will dare to go.

  2. There is no obligation concerning the language of the (often prerecorded) announcements.

For this second point I do have a reference but it requires some context. It is about planes landing at Brussels National Airport (BRU). Brussels is a bilingual city where both French and Dutch are official languages. The airport, however, is located in the Flemish community of Zavemtem and Flanders is monolingual. Only Dutch is the official language.

On 25 January 2015, the Flemish MP Lieve Maes (from N-VA, a Flemish nationalistic party) complained in the Flemish parliament that when she landed in a BA flight, the announcements where only made in French and English and not in the local language, Dutch. She asked the competent minister Ben Weyts (also N-VA, Flemish minister of mobility and a few other things that you probably don't care about) if this is legal and if the minister would take any steps to do something about it. The answer of the minster was in short that there is no legal requirement whatsoever and as such it falls under the constitutional freedom of language. Source 1 (Dutch) Source 2 (French) The question and the answer (Dutch)

I quote a part of the answer:

Tot mijn spijt kan het taalgebruik dus niet door de wet- of decreetgever geregeld worden. Vanuit commercieel oogpunt is het uiteraard verstandig om bij de verwelkoming van passagiers rekening te houden met de plaatselijke taal in het land van vertrek of aankomst. Het zijn echter de maatschappijen zelf die hiervoor de nodige welwillendheid aan de dag zullen moeten leggen.

Translation (by me):

I regret that the use of the language can not be fixed by the legislator. From commercial point of view it is obviously intelligent to take into account the local language in the country of departure or arrival during the welcoming of the passengers. It are, however, the airlines themselves that will need to show the necessary benevolence for this.

What I deduce from this:

  • This does not imply that none of the crew members spoke Dutch. However, I assume that if there is no regulations considering the use of the (prerecorded) announcements, there will also be no regulations considering the languages actively spoken by the crew.
  • In his answer the minister makes no reference to any international agreement, treaty, regulation... He only refers to the Belgian legislation. My conclusion is that there are no internationally valid requirements. Obviously, there might be local laws that say something about it, depending on the country. It is also possible that there exist international agreements in which Belgium takes no part.
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    You're probably right but OTOH, regarding your last point, if there was an international agreement mandating the use of a local language (for some definition of local language) it would presumably refer to the country as a whole, not to the specific location of an airport. Such a requirement would be satisfied by the use of the French language and thus completely irrelevant to the matter at hand so that I would not expect the minister to quote it in this context (and, more generally, I would not expect a minister in a provincial government to be a good reference on international law). – Relaxed Dec 15 '15 at 22:09
  • No, it does not follow from his answer that this would be unconstitutional. I don't disagree that it would tricky but it's simply not related to that particular issue. – Relaxed Dec 16 '15 at 7:03
  • I know what the answer states but that's unrelated to my point. What it implies is that it would be unconstitutional for the province to enact such a law but that's moot as we were talking about international law. Also, It's a different point I did not mention before but there are also countless treaties to which Belgium is not a party. – Relaxed Dec 16 '15 at 9:25
  • @Relaxed: that last point is certainly valid and I included it in my answer. Removed my other comments as it was getting chatty. Think we basically agree. – Some wandering yeti Dec 16 '15 at 10:49
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Required? No. Desired? Yes.

It's not required for the airline flight attendants to know the inbound/outbound language by law, however airlines desire multilingual flight attendants and often give pay incentives to those that do.

Speaking out of personal experience I would say that it's common for at least someone on the flight to understand at least some of the language of the country they are travelling to. Airlines do big recruitment drives when they begin serving in different countries for multilingual flight attendants, and for some airlines it's a company policy to have them.

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    Resources? I know that in some cases (at least where i work) we are required to provide a language speaker in some destinations.. sO please provide sources.. – Nean Der Thal Dec 15 '15 at 15:51
  • There's not really a source I can quote, there's no law written that requires it (in the US at least). The only requirement is for the flight deck crew to at least know some English so they can communicate with the ground. Major airlines hire so many Bilingual people, so its likely a company requirement. – James Ives Dec 15 '15 at 16:17
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    @HeidelBerGensis required by whom? Are you certain the source of the requirement is not company policy? James Ives it's also conceivable that such a requirement might be mandated by local law or regulation. US law would be relatively uninteresting since international aviation standards already require English in so many contexts that the language must be a requirement already. – phoog Dec 15 '15 at 18:47
  • Many will require the safety announcements to be spoken in the destinations language, but those can either be spoken or played via a pre recorded message. Of course this could vary, the world is a large place and I don't know the laws of every land. I can only speak for what I know in relevance to where I live. – James Ives Dec 15 '15 at 19:06
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Emirates - which prides itself on its multi-lingual international cabin crew, always announces the languages spoken by the crew as part of their on-board announcements.

Despite the variety of their crew; often it is the case that the cabin crew members do not speak the language of the destination country; but they speak a large variety. On a recent flight from Kuwait to Dubai, the crew spoke Slovak, Russian, Mandarin, English, French (but no Arabic).

On a flight from Kuwait to Karachi (Pakistan, native language Urdu) - none of the crew spoke Urdu.

If its so on a large, 100% international airline like Emirates - I would think on airlines that have international and domestic operations it is even less likely; and even more so on smaller airlines.

It is definitely nice to have as a language barrier is a common headache for cabin crew; I have seen them struggle with passenger (often times other passengers that speak the language had to assist).

As this goes directly towards the safety of the flight - many airlines have started to dub their safety announcements in the majority language of the destination country/area.

Recently on a Flydubai flight to Karachi, I was surprised (I actually said hah!) when upon landing the standard "please remain seated till the seat belt sign has been turned off" announcement was recorded and played back in Urdu.

I do not believe it is mandatory or required by law (if it were, then for each flight - the safety cards and signage would also have to be written in the majority language - as it also goes directly towards safety).

I have seen though, if an airline uses a particular aircraft on a specific routing - then they do change the signage for that particular country-pair (Saudia - the flag carrier for Saudi Arabia has done this in the past on their 747).

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    Every time I have been on a plane not owned by an American or British company, all announcements were in English AND in the owning airline's language. Including a Turkish owned flight entirely within Turkey. But that doesn't prove it's mandatory. – WGroleau Dec 16 '15 at 17:22
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This is certainly not the case - I know of an instance on a Ryanair flight from the UK to Poland where a passenger had to translate for the crew while another passenger was suffering from a heart attack - no crew member spoke Polish, and the ill passenger didn't speak English...

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