Non-punitive reporting systems
An excellent way to learn what really happens during flight.
For many years, decades actually, flight attendants would hide what went wrong during their flights from in-flight management out of fear of retribution or termination. Management was always right and crewmembers were wrong. That’s just how it was. We all knew of the nonsense that was happening, and in some cases, errors with that in the flight attendant manual, but we knew better than to tell or suggest to inflight management, “you might be wrong about something.” We saw what would happen to those people, and after one person got fired, we knew not to say anything ever again. The only way in-flight management found out what went wrong was when there was a very strict lead flight attendant/purser that would report everything to in-flight management. The only other exception was if something went so wrong that it could not be hidden, so the lead flight attendant or flight attendants on board would self disclose because the punishment was greater if you did not report negative situations that occurred.
Thankfully, due to the nonpunitive reporting systems in the United States known as the Aviation Safety Action Program, crewmembers are able to self disclose to their management what went wrong for evaluation and correction. Yes, sometimes it is purely the crewmember’s fault for the error made, but it also gives an opportunity for the airline to perform continual improvement on the design of its manual and training program. The flight attendant manual and training program are subject to continual improvement. The saying goes that the flight attendant manual is a living document as it is subject to change and edits on a continual basis due to a change in the operation, change in regulation, or change in aircraft or emergency equipment. Sometimes company policy or procedure causes a change to the operation. Regardless of the cause, the flight attendant manual is always considered in a state of change and never final. With each revision issued, we could say the manual is final, but for that moment in time until the next change.
Accidental regulatory violation, not intentional
When flight attendants submit ASAP reports, as long as the actions were not deliberate, the flight attendant that submitted the report is supposed to be protected from any disciplinary action. Exceptions to this rule, for example, would be someone purporting for work intoxicated when they know it is prohibited. First, it’s a regulatory violation, second, the actions were deliberate. The filing of an ASAP report would not protect them from discipline due to the deliberate nature of their act.
The ASAP program is based upon trust. The foundation for the trust comes from flight attendant submitting reports and not being disciplined or terminated unless it meets the non-accepted criteria, in-flight management addressing of those submissions, acting on the submissions as applicable, and providing some feedback regarding their submission, be it direct or to all flight attendants through a company memo. In order for the ASAP program to work, flight attendants need to make submissions when things go wrong, and the ASAP committee must live up to its end of the bargain and follow through as appropriate. Once trust is broken, it can be very hard to reestablish, so it is important that all ASAP members understand the program, and committee members understand how to work it, as well as their expectations and restrictions.
Some ASAP programs are very successful, while others seem to struggle. If your program is not working, it could be for numerous reasons. Perhaps the design of your system is very well done. Perhaps the training program is very comprehensive and flight attendants know what to do. Perhaps your flight attendants have excellent judgment and know how to handle almost anything that comes at them. If your program struggles, take a look at the performance of the ASAP committee and follow through. You might identify sources of conflict that are causing crewmembers not to want to self disclose. It could be because they are not getting feedback. It could be because some people have been wrongfully terminated after a submission to the program and it was not explained why they were released from their employment. If a flight attendant is terminated after an ASAP submission is made, it’s usually because their report could not be accepted into the program. When that happens, consider explaining through company memo reasons for submissions to be rejected from the ASAP program and what type of reports are included and excluded. There may be a misunderstanding of the program. From all of my years working in in-flight operations, while every employee in every career field values their job, it would be reasonable to say that most flight attendants don’t just value, but treasure their job. They want to and will protect themselves from doing anything wrong as best as they can, notwithstanding certain people who don’t quite fit the criteria. If they feel they can no longer share what has gone wrong with in-flight management, the trust will be broken and the ASAP program will decline and not function the way it was intended. In addition to designing a well-functioning ASAP program, you need to include and demonstrate trust to all involved that the program is there to help and not harm or threaten crewmembers.