Now that travellers are back in the airport after a pandemic hiatus, there's one thing to consider while you're waiting for your zone to be called during boarding: the flight attendant who is already on the plane getting it ready for you is likely working for free.  

That's because it's common practice for the workers to only get paid once the pilot takes the brakes off the plane and backs up.

"Any time that the aircraft door is open, we are not getting paid. When we're boarding, when we're delayed, when we are getting guests settled, we are not being paid," Alia Hussain, a WestJet flight attendant and president of CUPE 4070, said in an interview with CTV News.

CUPE, the union representing about 18,500 flight attendants across Canada, held a national day of action on Tuesday to condemn what Hussain calls an "archaic practice."

"It's one that is prevalent throughout the industry, which is the reason why the airline division of CUPE has taken this initiative on. We want to raise awareness with Canadian travellers, the Canadian public and other industries that this is still happening," she said.

In Montreal, hundreds of flight industry workers protested at Trudeau-International Airport to let people know they're not paid for all of their work, even when in uniform. 

Many who have been in the industry for decades say they love their job, but low wages coupled with the rising cost of living make it hard for them to make ends meet.

"About 25 per cent of our work schedule is unpaid. We surveyed our members and the average respondent said that 35 hours a month is unpaid in their schedule," said Dominic Levasseur, a spokesperson for CUPE's airline division.

montreal airport protest

Natasha Stea, an Air Canada flight attendant, was one of the people demonstrating in Montreal as part of the Canada-wide "Unpaid Work Won't Fly" campaign.

"When people tell us that they can’t make ends meet, when they can’t pay for rent or food, for a bus or car to get to work, it’s sad," Stea said.

Protests were held in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal as part of the campaign.  

One aviation industry analyst says the airline industry needs to end the practice and follow what is being done in the U.S. 

"U.S. airlines basically have kind of stepped away from that kind of practice and as soon as the flight attendants are on board the airplane, the clock starts," said John Gradek, the head of McGill University's aviation management program. 

"So whether there's a delay or whether there's an issue with boarding passengers, the rules south of the border in terms of pay for flight attendants have changed. And I think that's where the Canadian flight attendants are looking to have similar conditions applied in Canada."

Gradek says these demands from airline workers are coming when the industry is already facing labour shortages and is bleeding staff who are looking for more lucrative opportunities, pointing to U.S. airlines offering new pilots signing bonuses and pay increases as an example.

"And guess what happens to the Canadian pilots? They're looking at that saying, 'Hey. Me, too,'" he said.

"So we're losing pilots, we're going to be losing flight attendants because the rules aren't changing fast enough to catch up to the U.S. rules. So flight attendants, mechanics, and pilots are at risk in the Canadian aerospace to basically change countries and go for conditions and dollars that are much more worthwhile."

With files from CTV News Calgary