A couple of weeks ago, things weren’t looking so good for Flights Attendants at the world’s largest airline, American Airlines. The carrier intended to increase the base salary for its 25,500 flights by just 1.6%. The controversial decision had been met with outrage by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) – The union that represents AA Cabin Crew.
On 18th April, APFA released a statement in response to a ruling by independent arbitrators to green light the “unbefitting” pay rise. The union claimed AA Flight Attendants were being left behind as pay at rival airlines “leapfrogged” their own. All this as “shareholders and management enjoy the lion’s share of stratospheric profits”.
Take Delta Air Lines, whose Flight Attendants recently saw a 6% pay rise and the slice of a $1.1 billion USD profit sharing scheme. Delta scored twice in the Great Place to Work awards 2016 whereas, at AA, the union warned of a “disenfranchised workforce”.
But AA management has had a change of heart. In an open letter to staff, the airline’s Chairman and CEO, Doug Parker, spoke of a “commitment to building a foundation of trust at American”.
That commitment will see the base salary for Flight Attendants rise by between 4.2% and 6.5%. Employees will also benefit from the first profit-sharing payment since American Airlines merged with US Airways. Finally, the airline is to introduce ten weeks of maternity pay and pump $279 million USD into the company’s pension pot.
American claims that this new pay award will put their Flight Attendant base pay at the top of the industry – An average pay increase of 39% in the three years since the AA/US Airways merger.
“We intend to work with the unions to adjust the hourly base pay rates of all American pilots and flight attendants to levels that are equal to the highest rates currently in place at either Delta or United,” said Parker.
He went on, “these adjustments reflect a real philosophical change that is an important trait of the new American.”
But Parker also defended the slow progress to get to this point. He stated that both pilots and Flight Attendants had ratified new contracts back in 2014. At the time, the airline couldn’t have foreseen the pay rises implemented by rival carriers. That left AA Flight Attendants earning around 4% less than their peers.
Bob Ross, the National President at APFA has reacted cautiously to the news. He has said the pay rise is a step in the right direction and wants the momentum to continue. In a statement to his members, Ross said: “I am encouraged by their apparent willingness to finally begin recognizing Flight Attendants’ contributions to this airline’s success.”
But he also warned: “Failing to invest in the people who take care of passengers – under conditions that grow more difficult every day – is no way to run an airline.”