The bitter dispute between flight attendants and American Airlines really seems to be ratcheting up a notch – the latest salvo between the two sides has just seen the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that American has discriminated against its flight attendants, 75% of whom are female.
The allegation stems from a highly controversial attendance and performance program that American introduced last year when legacy U.S. Airways flight attendants merged into a single workforce with their legacy American Airlines counterparts. The new program serves points on flight attendants for attendance issues such as calling sick at Christmas or Thanksgiving, turning up late for a flight or failing to report for a scheduled duty.
Amassing between 4-6 of these points in a 12-month period could result in a performance review, while 10 points could result in dismissal. The program has been slated by APFA which represents American’s 27,000+ flight attendants and when it was first introduced the union’s president Lori Bassani said it “disrespected” their hard-working members.
APFA’s attempts to change the program have, though, so far fallen on deaf ears and American seems determined to make a success of it. Critics, however, point out that the new attendance policy doesn’t take the unique challenges of being a flight attendant into consideration and treats crew like robots – although American insists that managers have the power to use discretion when appropriate.
The new approach that APFA has taken against the program is interesting, to say the least:
“According to APFA, the airline has violated federal law by treating its pilots, who are overwhelmingly male, differently than the predominantly female Flight Attendant workgroup when it comes to attendance,” the union says.
“APFA has charged that the Company has implemented an onerous attendance policy on Flight Attendants effective October 1, 2018, which will fast-track Flight Attendants to discipline and discharge, while pilots have no such restrictions or penalties. The charge alleges that the Company’s Flight Attendant attendance policy has a disparate impact on women, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The union is calling on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to offer flight attendants the same attendance program as that enjoyed by its majority male workforce.
This new lawsuit is yet another thing that American’s flight attendants have taken their employer to task about. Morale doesn’t seem to have ever been lower and with contract negotiations set to begin soon both sides seem to be hunkering down and refusing to concede any ground.
Incidents like the burlesque video skit have only inflamed tensions and all the while ongoing problems like sky high reserve numbers continue to anger flight attendants without any apparent resolution in sight.
“Our Flight Attendants work alongside outstanding pilots as a single flight crew, yet we are treated like second-class citizens when it comes to attendance,” commented APFA’s Bassani.
“We deserve the same respect and professionalism as our other crew members, regardless of our gender, and it is unacceptable that American Airlines is perpetuating this gender disparity in 2019.”
A spokesperson for American says it “categorically rejects any allegation of gender discrimination in our policies.” The full statement from the airline continues:
“Like nearly all Fortune 100 companies, we have attendance policies that support our 24/7 operation. Our policy is designed to provide support and flexibility for our 27,000 flight attendants to give them latitude in managing their time away from work. At the same time, our policy ensures we’re staffed to provide our customers with the great service they expect and deserve when flying American.”
“Our flight attendants are the best in the business and live up to their attendance commitments every day as they safely transport 560,000 customers across our system.”
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.