It may have been nearly five years since American Airlines and the former U.S. Airways merged to create the mega AMR Corporation (by some counts, the largest airline in the world) but integrating the two airlines has been a long journey which still isn’t over. Passengers may no longer notice any difference but unifying employees from both airlines into a single workgroup has been a huge task.
And now flight attendants at the Dallas Forth Worth-based airline are up in arms as their employer prepares to put in place the final pieces in the jigsaw of bringing legacy American and legacy U.S. Airways flight attendants together. Their trade union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants has even said the airline has “disrespected” its hard-working members.
The dispute encompasses a whole range of issues as American prepares to introduce unified working conditions including rostering and – importantly – a new performance, attendance and discipline procedure. In an explosive letter to the airline, APFA’s president, Lori Bassani says the ”Flight Attendant Attendance and Performance Program’ will mark a new “regrettable chapter” in the relationship between flight attendants and their employer.
The program, which will affect over 27,000 flight attendants, introduces a new points-based system to effectively punish unauthorised absence, sickness and failing to report for a flight on time. According to Inc. here’s how the new system will work:
“Flight attendants would be tagged with points for attendance issues such as:
- taking more than 2 personal days
- being late for work
- being reported as a no-show for a flight
- calling in sick during “critical periods,” which include three of the busiest travel times of the year: the Fourth of July (July 1 to 7), Thanksgiving (from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after), and Christmas/New Year’s Day (Dec. 22 to Jan. 3).
The consequences for amassing too many points within a 12-month rolling period would be potentially severe:
- 4 to 6 points: performance review
- 8 points: final warning
- 10 points: termination”
Understandably, flight attendants say the system will fail to take into consideration individual circumstances. Will managers be able to show discretion? And does the airline even realise that emergencies happen from time to time? For that matter, do they realise flight attendants have physically exhausting jobs, spent often in the company of ill passengers?
And then there are concerns flight attendants could game the system – easily using “spare” points to take an all-important day off when annual leave has being otherwise refused or spent.
APFA suggests the program could be illegal and at the very least will punish flight attendants for legitimate sick leave – potentially “fast-tracking flight attendants to unjust discipline and termination”.
But that’s not the only reason flight attendants are up in arms. Over the last few months, the union have been tracking a number of issues which they say need to be immediately resolved. As well as the widely reported “toxic uniform”, the union says toxic fume events are being reported daily.
Other complaints include:
- A crew scheduling system they call “The Optimizer” that creates “inhumane work schedules”
- Insufficient rest between long shifts
- Failing to provide meals for crew onboard and not providing enough time to get meals between flights
- Increasing levels of reserve duties – and then misusing flight attendants who are on reserve duty.
Unsurprisingly, APFA has demanded the airline immediately “cease and desist” from imposing the new program which is set to start in October. They say they had hoped to get the “best of both worlds” from the merger of American and U.S. Airways – not a totally new and draconian performance management system.
In response, a spokesperson for American has been reported as saying:
“We’re on track to integrate our legacy US Airways and legacy American flight attendant teams into a single crew system on October 1. That’s also when we’ll align our attendance and performance policies for flight attendant team members.
The new policy recognizes that life happens and provides flight attendants with latitude to manage their time away from work. At the same time, it encourages attendance accountability which ensures we’re appropriately staffed to provide our customers with the great service they expect and deserve when flying American.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.