American Airlines has offered flight attendants shorter-term unpaid leaves of absence in a bid to avoid involuntary furloughs after other measures like early retirement failed to attract much interest. Starting in October, flight attendants will have the option of either taking a six or eight-month leave of absence with little to no pay but retaining their non-revenue travel and healthcare benefits.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that just 200 flight attendants had opted to take an offer of early retirement despite the airline warning it might have an overage of 10,000 crew members by October. The level of interest has since picked up slightly but is well below the number required to avoid involuntary furloughs.
If American follows through with its threat to furlough all 10,000 flights attendants, it would hit staffers who joined the airline just after 9/11. In an attempt to garner as much interest as possible, American has offered its new short-term leaves as a limited one-time offer.
The offer from American comes shortly after the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) hit out at the airline for threatening to furlough a third of its members based in the United States while seemingly leaving crew bases in Latin America largely unscathed.
“It is a matter of fundamental fairness that cutbacks in the operation are spread across the entire operation, including the Latin American operation. With the U.S. operation being cut by one third, at bare minimum, the Latin American operation should be scaled back accordingly,” wrote APFA’s national president Julie Hedrick in a letter to American chief executive Doug Parker.
American currently has crew bases in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Lima and Bogata. Flight attendants at these bases have been offered voluntary leave options but American has not confirmed whether job losses might also follow.
Hedrick fears that mass flight attendant job losses could be made at American’s hub in Miami (MIA) with positions then backfilled with Latin American-based flight attendants. APFA is now accusing the airline of “offshoring” American jobs just as other airlines seek to close foreign crew bases.
In the absence of a quick recovery in the travel demand, the one other hope for American’s flight attendant is a second CARES Act bailout with payroll support. A multi-billion-dollar cash injection could keep jobs secure through March 2021 at which point the situation may have changed for the better. We’ll hopefully know whether that is a possibility by August 7.
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.