Flight Attendants at American Airlines are voicing their frustration over two voluntary leave of absence options being made available to them as the airline handles the fallout from the global Coronavirus pandemic. The Dallas Forth Worth-based airline has so far cut international capacity by at least 75 per cent and by around 30 per cent for domestic services – although further flights are likely to be grounded in the coming days.
With an excess of staff and the need to urgently cut costs, American has opened up an extended voluntary leave of absence scheme, as well as an option for long-serving flight attendants to leave the airline early on enhanced conditions.
The problem, however, is that the conditions attached to these schemes vary significantly from the same options offered to pilots. Several days ago, pilots were given a short-term leave of absence option whereby they could continue to be paid the equivalent of 55-hours flying pay per month.
There was also an option that pilots who were at least 62-years old could leave the company early but still be paid the equivalent of 50-hours flying pay until their mandatory retirement age at 65. Finally, there was a longterm voluntary leave option that didn’t include pay.
“We are highly offended that the company offered the pilot group financial benefits for two of the pilot options and would not consider the same for our group,” commented Lori Bassani, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
“This is a slap in the face for our members who are keeping this airline in the air—- and it severely underestimates our relevance during this or any crisis,” she continued.
Bassani said flight attendants were at higher risk of catching the virus and that decisions taken by the airline in recent years had made those risks even higher. “To exacerbate that situation, our company designed the interiors of our aircraft by stuffing in as many seats as possible,” Bassani explained.
“In other words, social distancing is not only impossible in our workplace, it puts our flight attendants at more risk of contracting COVID-19. We are lucky to maybe get a few inches’ worth of distance, much less 6 feet.”
Bassani says the so-called ‘early out’ option was imposed by American and is not endorsed by her union. In fact, she doubts whether anyone will be able to take advantage of the option because “pensions were stripped or frozen during the last crisis and they cannot afford to retire”.
For those flight attendants who simply can’t afford to take unpaid leave, Bassani is calling on American to start offering “hazard pay”, while urging the airline to cut still further the onboard service in order to limit interactions with customers.
In the last few weeks, American has stopped hot towel service, removed all glassware from premium cabins, stopped drink refills and axed self-service snack options.
The airline has promised to pay any staff member who has to self-quarantine and not to record the absence as a sick point against the company’s controversial attendance program – however, Bassani says she would like to see American provide even better protection for her members who test positive for COVID-19.
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.