United Airlines has been accused of doing U.S.-based flight attendants out of work by using international crew based in London to operate trips from the United States to India. The accusation comes after thousands of United’s flight attendants received federal WARN letters for the second time informing them that they are at risk of being furloughed without pay or healthcare benefits when an airline bailout runs out at the end of March.
In recent weeks, flight attendants based at London Heathrow have not only worked flights between the UK and US but also onwards to Delhi and Mumbai. One routing involves flight attendants flying from London to Chicago and after a short layover, working a third flight to Delhi and spending a night in India before doing the same trip in reverse.
Another routing involves United’s international crew flying from Heathrow to Newark and then onto Mumbai. The London Heathrow base employs over 400 flight attendants, some of whom are U.S. passport holders.
Thousands of United’s U.S.-based flight attendants were furloughed at the start of October when funds from a federal payroll support program dried up. After flight attendants spent several months without pay or benefits, Congress agreed on an extension to program on December 28, 2020.
That extension, however, will come to an end at the start of April. On Friday, United sent WARN notices to around 14,000 staffers providing them with the legally required 60-day notice that their jobs were at risk.
Many of the flight attendants who were brought back from the first round of furloughs haven’t worked a single flight while they await security checks and mandatory training. A lack of flights also means that many flight attendants are sat at home without work on contractual minimum pay.
United didn’t comment on the specifics of what routes international flight attendants were operating on behalf of their U.S.-based colleagues, but a spokesperson said of the matter: “We comply with government regulations to manage our service and flight schedule. United is making adjustments to crew staffing in accordance with current government mandates.”
Some flight attendants have also raised concern about the fact that UK-based flight attendants may be exposed to a highly-transmissible variant of the covid-19 virus that was first discovered in South East England.
Although passengers now have to get a pre-departure test before flying to the United States, aircrew are currently exempt from the rules.
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.