Airport operators in Japan are looking to open day care centers at their facilities in an effort to keep airline and airport staff from leaving their jobs after having children.
Ground and cabin crew as well as airport terminal officials typically work irregular hours, which also depend on weather conditions. Because of this, many find it difficult to fulfill the demands of the job while trying to raise a family.
But day care centers at the airports could help employees juggle work and family responsibilities. Such efforts by airport operators to retain their personnel are important, as the number of visitors to Japan is expected to rise in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Since 2016, Central Japan International Airport, Kansai International Airport and Kagoshima Airport have all opened day care facilities.
Narita International Airport was first to set up such a facility at in 2004. The operator of Haneda airport started running its second day care center in April.
The availability of child care options remains a serious issue in the country. Many new mothers would like to continue to work, but are frustrated by the day care shortage. The government is stepping up efforts to reduce the number of children on day care waiting lists.
“I wouldn’t have been able to continue working without the day care center at the airport,” Akiko Higurashi said.
The 49-year-old All Nippon Airways flight attendant has a 5-year-old boy. She returned to work after maternity leave and now serves on a long-haul international flight twice a month.
She recalled one time when she took her son to day care at Haneda airport around 5 a.m. when she was asked to take on nonscheduled duty due to heavy snow.
When the first center opened at Haneda airport a decade ago, many parents saw it as a temporary solution until their children were admitted to local nursery schools. But they soon realized how the location and long opening hours, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., were a rare convenience. Demand for airport child care surged, and at many of these facilities there are now waiting lists.
Close to 1,800 people work at Kagoshima Airport. The operator opened a day care center in April after it saw an increasing number of employees quit their jobs after having children.
Yoko Watanabe, 29-year-old Japan Air Commuter flight attendant, has two children and her husband is a pilot. Japan Air Commuter is a regional carrier unit of the Japan Airlines group based in Kagoshima.
She was not sure whether she could come back to work after her second child was born. She lives away from her parents and in-laws. When she heard about the day care facility at the airport, she saw it as an interim step before looking for openings at a local day care center. A while after that, she decided to return to work.
Watanabe will sometimes have to leave her home as early as 6 a.m. and serve on as many as six flights a day.
Despite her hectic work schedule, she manages by coordinate family responsibilities with her husband. She said whoever leaves home later and finishes work earlier will always be the one to take the children to the center and pick them up at the end of the day.
“I want them to see me at work,” Watanabe said. “My 4-year-old daughter told me, ‘I want to be a flight attendant.'”