Delta Air Lines is ending a longstanding but controversial airline industry practice in which flight attendants are expected to work for free during boarding. The practice is a hot topic amongst flight attendants at several major U.S. carriers which has spawned an online campaign and the move from Delta comes as the Atlanta-based airline faces down a renewed push from activists to unionize its flight attendants.
Although the rules differ from airline to airline, flight attendants at many U.S.-based airlines only start getting paid an hourly rate from the moment the last aircraft door closes and the plane pushes back from the gate meaning that boarding and pre-departure services are done effectively for free. In the event of a delay on the ground, flight attendants go unpaid.
Flight attendants say the time spent carrying out pre-departure services has steadily increased over the last decade. Around 10 years ago, airlines assigned just 30 minutes to board a domestic flight but Delta has just increased boarding time for a domestic single-aisle aircraft to 40 minutes and for widebody domestic services, boarding now starts at 45 minutes before scheduled departure. For international services, boarding starts at 50 minutes before departure.
Up until now, that time went unpaid but from June 2, 2022, Delta will start paying flight attendants a reduced hourly rate for the time spent boarding. The rate is capped at 50 percent of the standard flying hourly rate but experts believe this could net a $4,000+ annual pay uplift for most flight attendants.
And the rewards could be even higher for longer serving flight attendants with hourly rate rates increasing from $16.10 to $36.19 per hour based on length of service.
The decision has been hailed as a major win for Delta flight attendants although some employees have already openly criticised the move as “insulting” because boarding time has been capped at just half the usual hourly pay rate. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which is attempting to unionize Delta’s flight attendants has also slammed the move.
The union claims the pay uplift was only announced because management is getting “nervous” about the prospect that flight attendants could choose to unionize. And while the union acknowledges that the decision is a positive move it claims it was only made to avoid an “uproar” over Delta’s decision to increase boarding time for domestic services.
Last month, the union which represents flight attendants at American Airlines said it would try to win boarding pay in contract negotiations which are currently underway. In the past, the lack of boarding pay was balanced against the total remuneration package but flight attendants are now demanding they get paid extra due to the increased workload that now comes during boarding.
The decision by Delta, campaigners argue, demonstrates that airlines can afford to pay extra for boarding and that adding boarding pay won’t result in a pay reduction elsewhere.
Flight attendants say boarding time is one of the most stressful parts of any flights and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires them to be onboard to perform safety-critical tasks. In recent years, hand luggage has become an increasingly difficult issue to police, while airlines also want flight attendants to perform a variety of tasks including pre-departure beverages.
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.