United Airlines will be allowed to close three out of four of its international flight attendant bases in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Frankfurt without offering affected crew the opportunity to transfer to the one remaining foreign outpost at London Heathrow Airport. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) learned on Friday that an arbitrator had ruled against their bid to offer transfers to crew who didn’t have the legal right to work in the United States.
As many as 840 flight attendants were told they were at risk of redundancy after United announced plans to close the international flight attendant bases from October 1. The flight attendant union immediately challenged the decision, saying affected flight attendants should have the opportunity to transfer to London where the workload on transatlantic flights could be shared out amongst more foreign crew.
The union argued unsuccessfully that in the past when foreign crew bases were closed, affected crew members were offered the chance to transfer to another country. The arbitrator, however, sided with the airline who was only offering eligible flight attendants to chance to transfer to bases in the United States. Most international crew don’t have the legal right to live and work in the U.S.
“We understand this decision has far-reaching consequences for each one of you, not only for your personal life, but for your professional life as well,” the union wrote in a letter to its international members.
“This series of events is life-changing and we realize that each of us has our internal mechanism for coping with stress and uncertainty,” the memo continued. “We understand the myriad of feelings with which you are faced – abandonment, frustration, anger.”
Along with the permanent loss of nearly 1,000 international flight attendant jobs, United also plans to involuntary furlough as many as 6,920 flight attendants once federal payroll support runs out at the end of September. Both the airline and the flight attendant union continue last-ditch efforts to convince Congress to extend payroll support through to the end of March 2021.
In recent weeks, United managed to do a deal with its pilots to avoid involuntary furloughs but thousands of other workers face being laid off indefinitely on October 1.
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.