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flyguy89
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Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 3:05 pm

I was on a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris on a U.S. carrier last week, the flight was operated with a 300+ seat A330, and I was pretty surprised (in a bad way) that there was only one flight attendant staffed on the flight who could speak French.

I've experienced this before on another U.S. carrier, but chalked it up to a fluke one-time staffing issue probably, but this seems to be a trend I'm noticing. I've taken a number of international flights from the U.S. on foreign carriers, and in all those experiences most of the staff had bilingual proficiency or fluency in English.

To me it just seemed in bad form and not putting the airline's (or America's) best foot forward watching flight attendants try and communicate with non English-speaking passengers without even an attempt at using basic, easy-to-use phrases (how hard honestly is it to learn, "would you like the pasta or chicken?" in French?). One of the flight attendants actually got appallingly rude with a French couple behind me who couldn't understand "snack".

My question is, how do US carriers handle the staffing on international flights with respect to language requirements? I can appreciate that bilingualism is a more scarce skill in the U.S. compared to Europe, but do American carriers offer any language learning programs to FA's? At the very least, it seems like it would be worth it to teach some simple phrases or pronunciation to read basic announcements from a note card or something.
 
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lesfalls
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 3:33 pm

Quoting flyguy89 (Thread starter):

The U.S. carriers don't handle it at all. I've used to fly UA very often on the EWR-HAM route and it was rare to find a crew member on the flight who even spoke another language. Foreign carriers handle it much better then US carriers like when I flew EK (JFK-MXP)every crew member spoke to other languages then their native language.
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dfwjim1
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 3:55 pm

I flew on AA recently from MIA to Campinas, Brasil and the boarding
announcement was in English only and not Portuguese and English.
 
Italianflyer
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 4:04 pm

In the past, my airline offered reimbursement for FAs & CSAs who took classes and passed the proficiency exam. Some carriers even offered bonuses, but many of these incentives disappeared with mid-00s cost cutting. I am fluent in Spanish & Italian and competent with French and Portuguese. My skill has more to do with my heritage and background than schooling. Same is true for many of my flying partners who speak second (or 3rd,4th) languages. The US education system is just beginning to take language instruction seriously.

In a globalized economy, people who are fluent in Euro-centric languages are in demand. People who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, etc. are at a premium and can make a much better living in another field.

That being said it does baffle me how some people who hold the same trip week after week have not mastered, or tried, basic pidgin phrases in the language of destination.
 
AADC10
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 4:07 pm

I know at UA they do have language bases and try to have at least two language speakers on each international flight to a non-English speaking country. Of course, sometimes they are short staffed and only have one or even none. Speakers are not specifically identified so there may be speakers on board but especially to Europe it may be difficult to spot them. To Asia it is easier because on UA the speakers are about half the age of the non-speakers.
 
Chisky16
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 4:26 pm

Might this have to do with the seniority rules in the United States? Where seniority triumphs foreign language proficiency?
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OA412
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 4:32 pm

I know that some airlines are moving away from language speakers on certain routes where English is very heavily spoken. I know someone mentioned DL no longer specifically assigns language speakers to AMS, ARN, or CPH since so many Swedes, Danes, and Dutch speak English.

Quoting ChiSky16 (Reply 5):

Might this have to do with the seniority rules in the United States? Where seniority triumphs foreign language proficiency?

My understanding is that seniority does not trump language proficiency on routes that are specifically assigned language proficient FAs, but rather language trumps seniority.
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panamair
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 5:59 pm

Quoting lesfalls (Reply 1):
The U.S. carriers don't handle it at all.

That is simply not true. DL, AA, and UA all have policies about staffing language-of-destination flight attendants on many of their transoceanic flights.

DL for example, has Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese (for Brazil), Greek, Turkish, Russian, Dutch, Hindii (for when they used to fly to BOM), Czech, Swedish, Danish, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese speakers officially.
There are also policies on how many there should be per flight...for example, JFK-CDG should have two French speakers, JFK-BRU should have one French and one Dutch speaker, JFK-AMS normally has two Dutch speakers, JFK-ZRH two German speakers, JFK-NCE three French speakers, JFK-NRT two Japanese and one Mandarin speaker, etc.
Sometimes of course, they may not have enough due to vacations, sick days, IROPS, etc.

In addition, some of the senior language speakers simply 'drop' their language once they can hold certain international flights without having to use the language card. The issue is that once they are officially a language speaker, they will often get assigned those flights, so by dropping their language, they can have more flexibility in where they fly....
 
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lesfalls
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 6:19 pm

Quoting panamair (Reply 7):

Yes but it's not like on foreign carriers where every crew member more or less seaks another language. This is what the US school system and airlines are not so good on.
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jsnww81
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 6:24 pm

Quoting flyguy89 (Thread starter):
One of the flight attendants actually got appallingly rude with a French couple behind me who couldn't understand "snack".

A rude longhaul flight attendant on a US carrier? Never. International crews on US carriers are pretty widely acknowledged to be the worst of the bunch.

Quoting ItalianFlyer (Reply 3):
That being said it does baffle me how some people who hold the same trip week after week have not mastered, or tried, basic pidgin phrases in the language of destination.

These are the same people who have no problem sitting on a jumpseat for six hours, reading magazines and ignoring call buttons. I stopped being baffled by their behavior years ago. It's all about doing what's easiest and most comfortable for themselves. Concern for passengers, the airline's brand image and any service mentality went out the window a long time ago.

[Edited 2015-05-20 11:25:05]
 
panamair
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 6:27 pm

Quoting lesfalls (Reply 8):
Yes but it's not like on foreign carriers where every crew member more or less seaks another language

English is pretty much required on every airline in the world. Naturally an airline from a non-English speaking country would of course have crew members who speak more than one language! (English and their native language)

Frankly, US carriers do a pretty decent job of ensuring there are language speakers on many of their international flights...Look at Thai or Cathay Pacific - none of them have any European language speakers on flights to Europe...
Take a look at Qantas or Virgin Atlantic, how many of their crew members speak another language besides English?
 
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OA412
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 6:45 pm

Quoting jsnww81 (Reply 9):
International crews on US carriers are pretty widely acknowledged to be the worst of the bunch.

Yes and no. Admittedly I've only experienced longhaul crews on DL (well and PA, but that was almost 30 years ago now, and my memories of those flights are vague), but there were good and bad ones. There are certainly some you could label as "the worst of the bunch," but I did find some older flight attendants who are still great at what they do.
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flyguy89
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 7:17 pm

Interesting info, thanks all!

Quoting panamair (Reply 7):
There are also policies on how many there should be per flight...for example, JFK-CDG should have two French speakers, JFK-BRU should have one French and one Dutch speaker, JFK-AMS normally has two Dutch speakers, JFK-ZRH two German speakers, JFK-NCE three French speakers, JFK-NRT two Japanese and one Mandarin speaker, etc.
Sometimes of course, they may not have enough due to vacations, sick days, IROPS, etc.

That's good to hear, I'm still curious however why, for those who travel certain international routes frequently to countries like Spain, France, Italy...etc, there's such reticence or lack of drive to learn simple turn-key phrases that could make service more smooth and pleasant for all? I'm not trying to dump on FA's, I'm frankly surprised the airlines don't have higher standards regarding this with their international routes still often considered by them their "prestige" services.

Quoting jsnww81 (Reply 9):
A rude longhaul flight attendant on a US carrier? Never. International crews on US carriers are pretty widely acknowledged to be the worst of the bunch.

I mean, I know they don't have the greatest reputation, but this guy was just so rude I almost wanted to turn around and apologize to them on behalf of America.

Quoting OA412 (Reply 11):
Quoting jsnww81 (Reply 9):
International crews on US carriers are pretty widely acknowledged to be the worst of the bunch.

Yes and no. Admittedly I've only experienced longhaul crews on DL (well and PA, but that was almost 30 years ago now, and my memories of those flights are vague), but there were good and bad ones. There are certainly some you could label as "the worst of the bunch," but I did find some older flight attendants who are still great at what they do.

It can all be traced back to seniority. On the international flights I've taken with US carriers, it always has been a mixed bag, about half the crew I would say were great and knew how to do the job well and with a smile. The other half are usually old, tired and act like they don't want to be there and are just riding the gravy train for one more year before they retire. It's a shame they throw this lot in with the great ones, it brings them all down. I know the US carriers have excellent FA's on their payroll, it's just unfortunate that the old or disgruntled ones get to squat on the prestigious international routes where the airlines should fronting their best talent.
 
CXA330300
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 7:18 pm

For what it's worth, this is also a problem on some European carriers. I've recently been on a BA LHR-IST where there was not a Turkish-speaking flight attendant on board, or Turkish-language announcements, despite many pax clearly having trouble with English.
Home airport now: DCA/IAD
 
CONTACREW
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 8:30 pm

The language bases for sCO foreign language speaker FAs are NLS (Newark Language Speaker), HOS (Houston Other Speaker) and LLS (Los Angeles Language Speaker). Narrowbody is staffed with 2 speakers Widebody is staffed with 3 speakers.
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airbazar
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 9:00 pm

Quoting panamair (Reply 7):
That is simply not true. DL, AA, and UA all have policies about staffing language-of-destination flight attendants on many of their transoceanic flights.

The thing is it shouldn't even have to get to that point. One of the hiring requirements should be proficiency in another language, doesn't matter which. It is a profession that by definition requires communication with people of different countries and in different countries. That's just my $0,02.
 
L1011Lover
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Wed May 20, 2015 9:04 pm

I used to work for a US carrier as an L O D (Language Of Destination) Flight Attendant for a few years. Mostly flew US to FRA routes. I fondly remember one flight on which every single FA (of the 9 that were on the flight) was either German or at least spoke German fluently! We never had less than two German speakers on my flights during my three years with that airline.

I honestly think that US carriers do quite a good job in staffing international flights with language qualified FA's. Most if not all US hubs/gateways with international flights have language qualified FA's.

In addition all three (remaining) US majors have foreign based crews with quite extensive language qualifications.

AA has FA bases in South America (which came from EA)
DL has FA bases in Asia (which came from NW and in the past had European, Indian bases and a TLV base which came from PA)
UA established FA bases in Europe and Asia in the early to mid 90's. They still have LHR (which originally came from PA when UA bought their LHR route authorities), FRA, NRT and HKG.

Best regards
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ScottishDavie
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 7:36 am

Quoting CXA330300 (Reply 13):

For what it's worth, this is also a problem on some European carriers. I've recently been on a BA LHR-IST where there was not a Turkish-speaking flight attendant on board, or Turkish-language announcements, despite many pax clearly having trouble with English.

No surprise there. The British are notoriously poor at learning and speaking foreign languages and here in Scotland there is concern about a serious decline in language teaching. I regularly travel to Germany with easyJet and I've never found a member of cabin crew who speaks German. Pre-recorded announcements are usually made in German and on my last flight the Captain repeated his PA announcements in German but it's far from clear how the cabin crew would deal with, say, a non-English speaking passenger who takes ill or otherwise needs detailed interaction
 
CXA330300
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 8:42 am

Quoting ScottishDavie (Reply 17):
The British are notoriously poor at learning and speaking foreign languages and here in Scotland there is concern about a serious decline in language teaching. I regularly travel to Germany with easyJet and I've never found a member of cabin crew who speaks German. Pre-recorded announcements are usually made in German and on my last flight the Captain repeated his PA announcements in German but it's far from clear how the cabin crew would deal with, say, a non-English speaking passenger who takes ill or otherwise needs detailed interaction

Yes yes yes! I've been living here in the UK for a year now and am quite shocked at how low foreign language proficiency is in this country. I lived in the States and Canada before this, where proficiency is far higher.

I imagine by asking pax to help with language. I've actually had the "pleasure," if one will, of being a French-English interpreter on a US flight from PHL to YYZ last year for a young man who was feeling unwell. Given that it was a flight between two Anglophone cities, it was of course fine to not have a Francophone F/A, but if that's standard procedure on flights to, say, YUL or YQB, that would be a bit of an issue.
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RIXrat
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 9:28 am

On long-haul flights SK has country flags pinned to FA uniforms for easy recognition as to what languages they speak. English, of course, is a given. I speak Swedish, but if the FA answers me in Danish, then I'm lost. A quick sorry from me and we're back to English.
 
L1011Lover
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 12:40 pm

Quoting CXA330300 (Reply 13):
For what it's worth, this is also a problem on some European carriers. I've recently been on a BA LHR-IST where there was not a Turkish-speaking flight attendant on board, or Turkish-language announcements, despite many pax clearly having trouble with English.

Well honestly it is just impossible for European carriers (not only BA, but any other airline) to staff every single intra-European flight with a language of destination qualified FA! Just impossible! Think of the hundreds, well thousands of flights within Europe every day!

A crew on an intra-European pattern is also not strictly limited to one certain destination!

An L O D (Language Of Destination) program can certainly work for international longhaul flights, but definitely and absolutely not for short intra-European flying with the huge amount of different languages spoken within a relatively small area combined with the amount of daily flights!

Even LH that has quite a number of Turkish passengers between Germany and Turkey due to the large Turkish population in Germany can't staff every Germany-Turkey flight with a Turkish speaker!

A recorded announcement however should definitely always be played when necessary!

Best regards
L1011Lover
 
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auroralives
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 2:03 pm

I can say that every single one of the many hundreds of flights I've been on, English has been spoken.

I've flown internal flights in Vietnam, Indonesia, China and a bunch of other countries, and there was always either fluent or a very serious attempt at English.. in addition to the native language.

I am curious... there must be somewhere (perhaps an backwoods internal Chinese flight?)... where *only* the native language is spoken... anyone have specific examples (talking jet service on a "major" carrier)??
 
4xear
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 2:26 pm

Back when I was a flight attendant with US, I used to be on the US-Europe flights, primarily from PHL to either FRA or MUC. The requirement was that there be two German-speaking flight attendants on each flight, called "LODOs" (Language of Destination/Origin). One had to be in business class and one in coach, and we handled all the announcements, including translation of the announcements from the flight deck. We were also involved in helping with the immigration and Department of Agriculture paperwork on the way back to the US. We were also the ones that operated the duty-free cart. This was almost twenty years ago, and I don't know what the situation is nowadays. I do look at the ads for flight attendants and see that there is a continuing demand for flight attendant speaking foreign languages in the US.

The flights to Israel operated by UA, AA and DL should have a Hebrew-speaker on board at all times.

4xear
 
threeifbyair
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 2:41 pm

Quoting auroralives (Reply 21):
I can say that every single one of the many hundreds of flights I've been on, English has been spoken.

I've flown internal flights in Vietnam, Indonesia, China and a bunch of other countries, and there was always either fluent or a very serious attempt at English.. in addition to the native language.

I am curious... there must be somewhere (perhaps an backwoods internal Chinese flight?)... where *only* the native language is spoken... anyone have specific examples (talking jet service on a "major" carrier)??

AF CDG-CMN - no English except for a quick announcement from the captain before departure. Everything else was exclusively in French. However, I was possibly the only passenger who didn't speak French.
 
PanAm747LHR
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 3:14 pm

Quoting lesfalls (Reply 1):
The U.S. carriers don't handle it at all. I've used to fly UA very often on the EWR-HAM route and it was rare to find a crew member on the flight who even spoke another language. Foreign carriers handle it much better then US carriers like when I flew EK (JFK-MXP)every crew member spoke to other languages then their native language.

I flew for Continental and Emirates, so I'll address both of your comments. First of all, you're full of air regarding EWR-HAM. Those flights are staffed with 2 German speakers, so out of 6 flight attendants, 1/3 speak German. Not bad. If you had one flight where they were missing one or even both, fine, flukes happen. That said I can't believe it happened on a regular basis.

And yes, Emirates loves bilingual flight attendants. However half the time, you don't have a single Italian speaker on JFK-MXP. You have people who speak Korean, Swahili and Russian, but Italian? Nope. They're too busy sending them to somewhere else. EK is all about looks, and they want to seem multinational but don't actually take the time to staff their flights with the proper language speakers. One or two Arabic speakers on every flight and that's it. So what good is all the crew being multilingual when none of them speak the language of the origin/destination city?!

And all of you who are busy bashing US carriers - yes, Americans by in large are not bilingual. But I fly for a US Major now and we have speakers on almost every flight. My flight this morning had 3 which is the norm for us on widebody aircraft and not too shabby at all. Yes, they have a long way to go and it's not always consistent, but overall the US carriers do a pretty good job of staffing their flights with language speakers, especially given the piss-poor state of secondary language education in the United States.
 
B-HOP
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 3:56 pm

Quoting panamair (Reply 10):
Frankly, US carriers do a pretty decent job of ensuring there are language speakers on many of their international flights...Look at Thai or Cathay Pacific - none of them have any European language speakers on flights to Europe...
Take a look at Qantas or Virgin Atlantic, how many of their crew members speak another language besides English?

Only partially true, Cathay does have extra 'points' for recruits with extra language speakers aside from Cantonese, Mandarin, English and recruit's own native language (depend on nationality). Individuals whom has French/Japanese/Korean/German/Vietnamese/Tagalog language skills and passed assessment would have special status and rostered to those destinations at least once a month, for places like Paris, Frankfurt, a 'relatively' modest trip allowance which could add up compare to daily turnaround flights, still Italian/French and German are only taught at a university level in Hong Kong
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rta
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 4:05 pm

Quoting ScottishDavie (Reply 17):
but it's far from clear how the cabin crew would deal with, say, a non-English speaking passenger who takes ill or otherwise needs detailed interaction

Worse case scenario, if it ever came down to that, I think the chances of one of the passengers speaking English and the destination language is quite high.
 
wpigott
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 6:34 pm

Though Canada is different because we are an officially bilingual country with French and English, so all AC flights have FAs who are bilingual and at the beginning of the flight they announce which languages they can serve passengers in. I have experienced domestic flights (YVR-YOW & YYZ) where there are an extra 2-3 languages spoken by the FAs on board in addition to French and English, usually a mix of Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and sometimes a European language.

Additionally on a recent YYZ-CPH flight they had 2 FAs who spoke Danish and the J class menus were in French, English and Danish.
 
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longhauler
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RE: Multi-lingual Flight Attendants

Thu May 21, 2015 8:20 pm

Quoting wpigott (Reply 27):
Though Canada is different because we are an officially bilingual country with French and English, so all AC flights have FAs who are bilingual and at the beginning of the flight they announce which languages they can serve passengers in.

AC staffs the F/As a little differently, so that seniority issues do not arise. For example, YYZ-ZRH would be staffed for 6 F/As ... 3 FR (we actually call it BL for bilingue) and 2 GE. So that only F/A's qualified and tested in that language can bid that position. So on a YYZ-ZRH flight (for example) there would be only one EN only F/A.

On our YYZ-GIG flights, I notice the F/As are pretty junior, as they bid the PR positions which a lot of the "seniors" (literal and figurative) can not bid.
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