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United’s Flight Attendants Don’t Want Pre-Departure Beverage Service to Come Back But Insist it’s Not About Laziness

United’s Flight Attendants Don’t Want Pre-Departure Beverage Service to Come Back But Insist it’s Not About Laziness

United Airlines flight attendants take a meal order onboard a plane

Flight attendants at United Airlines are resisting the carrier’s decision to bring back pre-departure beverage service for premium passengers on all mainline flights starting November 23 but the union that represents crew at the Chicago-based airline insist it’s got nothing to do with flight attendants being lazy.

In a widely shared internal memo, it was revealed earlier this week that United planned to restore a slew of additional pre-pandemic service elements, including proper glassware and pre-departure beverages.

For the time being at least, United plans to restrict the pre-departure beverage service to pre-poured water or sparkling wine but the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) is concerned that with Covid cases already surging in Europe and infections starting to creep up across the United States, the airline has mistimed the rollback of pandemic protections.

At the start of the pandemic, airlines slashed inflight service so that flight attendants could have as little interaction with passengers as possible. Based on what we knew at the time about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, encouraging social distancing and reducing inflight service was widely encouraged by health authorities.

But U.S.-based airlines have been much slower than many other carriers to restore pre-pandemic service elements despite universal masking, widespread vaccination and access to new and sophisticated treatments for COVID-19 that dramatically reduce hospitalization and death rates.

While many of United’s international rivals have been offering pre-departure beverages for months, United is amongst the first U.S. carriers to recommit to the once familiar welcome beverage.

The flight attendant union’s argument against pre-departure beverages, though, is an interesting one. Following trials conducted in August, AFA objected to the reintroduction of pre-departure beverages for two main reasons.

The first reason was the obvious degradation of social distancing because flight attendants have to get close to passengers during the service, while weaving amongst customers boarding the plane.

The second reason, though, was more interesting. Customers, who are required by law to wear a face mask, are boarding aircraft and being immediately confronted by rows of maskless premium passengers sipping their welcome beverages.

“This “visual” created stands in stark contradiction to the messages to which passengers have been exposed prior to boarding about the need to keep your nose and mouth covered with a mask due to federal regulations,” the union wrote in a message to its members on Friday.

“We have expressed concern that this will only present additional challenges for Flight Attendants seeking to gain compliance with the Federal Mask Mandate,” the memo continued.

Last week, a woman was charged with assaulting a United Airlines flight attendant onboard a flight from Anchorage to San Francisco because he asked another passenger to adjust his face mask so that it was covering both his mouth and nose.

The Association of Flight Attendants has been a big proponent of President Biden’s federal face mask and have called for the mandate to be extended. it is currently due to remain in force through February 2022 at the earliest.

“Lest our objection to the return of this service become mischaracterized, we want to say upfront, this is not about Flight Attendants not wanting to offer this service to passengers on the aircraft,” the union insisted on Friday.

“None of the employees of United Airlines more than Flight Attendants wants to return to a sense of normal on the aircraft, sooner rather than late”.

And AFA says many of United’s customers will agree with them that now is not the time to bring back pre-departure beverage service. AFA points to record customer satisfaction scores as evidence that pandemic-related protective measures are something that customers appreciate.

View Comments (5)
  • It’s a fair argument. IMHO, UA would be better served restoring glassware and meals – the PDB is nice to have but not a deal breaker. A meal is essential for long haul and is a deal breaker when other airlines can manage it.

  • What would you think if you’re a customer in economy and people in first class have their masks down? You and other bloggers are quick to pounce on crazy people whom are anti maskers with video and click bait headlines, but you willingly exploit United’s announcement as the flight attendants being lazy? I know you’re not professional journalist and this is a blog, but take some responsibility for your trying to stoke the fire and abuse. Do you really want that? I assume you do.

  • If Boeing and Airbus made planes that had an L2 usable for boarding like the 757 does, the “visual” would be minimized as the First Class passengers would turn left, the others right on boarding.

    “This “visual” created stands in stark contradiction to the messages to which passengers have been exposed prior to boarding about the need to keep your nose and mouth covered with a mask due to federal regulations,” the union wrote in a message to its members on Friday.

  • Why would flight attendants want it back? They are not getting paid for boarding time, does anyone want to do their job for free? Don’t think so… handle wipes, doing announcements, greeting passengers, dealing with catering and other stuff behind the scenes and also pre departure service-it’s too much for not getting paid

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