Just over a week ago, American Airlines had to deny rumors that flight attendants would soon be expected to clean planes in between flights. Unlike low-cost airlines where the practice is common place, legacy carriers normally have dedicated cleaning teams that board a plane even on the tighest of turnarounds to clear away rubbish, clean lavatories and ‘dress’ the cabin for the next departure.
Apparently, rumours started circulating between American’s flight attendants that the company was about to implement a provision in the joint collective bargaining agreement that allows the airline to add these responsibilities to the flight attendant workload. The provision was written into the bargaining agreement following American’s merger with U.S. Airlines – a byproduct of how the merged airline used to operate.
Luckily for flight attendants, American was quick to dispel the rumors and a spokesperson told the Chicago Business Journal that it had “had no discussions internally or with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) about it.”
But Lori Bassani, who’s the president of APFA which represents American’s 25,000 flight attendants said American had planned to implement the provision in May. That plan has now been put on ice indefinitely and APFA says it will be addressing the cabin cleaning provision when it enters negotiations on an updated contract.
Bassani was pretty clear about what she thought of flight attendants cleaning planes in between flights, telling The Points Guy: “We believe cleaning of the aircraft is not the responsibility of our work group.”
And now it seems like similar discussions are taking place at United Airlines where flight attendants are being “pressed” to perform cabin cleaning duties in between flights. Common tasks would include clearing rubbish and other debris, vacuuming carpets, wiping down tray tables, cleaning toilets and crossing seat belts.
“We’ve received reports that some stations, especially during irregular operations, may not have cabin cleaning crews immediately available to support the quick turn process and in some instances, Flight Attendants have been pressed to perform cabin cleaning duties in the absence of cabin cleaning personnel,” claims the Association of Flight Attendants.
“This is not a Flight Attendant responsibility and you should not allow yourself to feel pressured into doing this work,” the union told its members in a memo.
That’s not to say flight attendants never clean an aircraft cabin – as the union notes, their duties do include maintaining the tidiness and neatness of cabins, galleys and lavaroties. But only between the time that the last aircraft door is closed before a flight and when the first aircraft door is opened on arrival at destination.
“Management has the responsibility to provide adequate staff to complete other necessary functions while the aircraft is on the ground,” the union says.
This is all reminiscent of a recent and very shortlived experiment by British Airways to do away with aircraft cleaning altogether on short turnarounds. During that trial, cabin crew at the airline said they were being pressured to clean the aircraft and were even handed cleaning materials by airport staff.
Instead, what we can probably expect to see is a renewed emphasis from these legacy airlines to ‘encourage’ flight attendants to collect as much trash as possible during the flight.
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.