A couple of weeks ago, we learned that Chicago-based United Airlines planned to cut the number of flight attendants on certain long-haul international flights – with its Polaris business class cabin set to be worst affected. Staffers understandably weren’t best pleased with the decision which United explained would bring its crewing levels in line with its big rivals at Delta and American Airlines.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) led by the charismatic Sara Nelson said cutting the number of flight attendants was the exact opposite of what United should be doing. Instead, she says United could be leading by example – providing a world-class and best in class service with professional and well-trained flight attendants who are able to respond to the myriad incidents and emergencies that can occur without warning at 38,000 feet.
“Rather than matching the staffing level of our competitors on these aircraft, all of us at United should set an industry standard that makes it impossible for them to compete with United,” explained the union. “We should be driving the highest standards today and that starts with a solid staffing foundation.”
AFA claims the real reason for staff cuts is “short-term gain for Wall Street” and has been looking at ways to “persuade” company management to reverse its ill-received decision. Flight attendants are already being encouraged to pen letters to the senior leadership team to express exactly how they feel, while union members are now being instructed to wear red AFA pins on their uniform – a visible and symbolic expression at their “displeasure” of the “unacceptable” staff cuts.
Now, United’s flight attendants plan to follow the same tactic as their colleagues at American Airlines with a system-wide ‘Day of Action’ scheduled to take place on December 13. They say the staff cuts aren’t the only problem but rather the “last straw” which is forcing them to go public.
At present, the union is still obtaining the necessary permits for protest but they’re likely to mimic that of American’s flight attendants who took part in similar action earlier this month. During that event, protests took place at 15 airports across the United States during a two-hour window. It’s important to mention that this isn’t a strike but rather than informational picket.
Fellow AFA-represented flight attendants at Air Wisconsin who provide regional flight service for the United Express brand have recently voted in favor of strike action in a dispute over pay and benefits. Strike action may take place without notice to either the airline or passengers and could have a big impact on the wider United network.
United recently published its financial results for Q3 with profits of $836 million and passenger revenue increasing by more than 6%.
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.