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Alaska Airlines Threatens to Close Crew Bases in California After Losing Lawsuit That Gives Flight Attendants Generous Meal Breaks

Alaska Airlines Threatens to Close Crew Bases in California After Losing Lawsuit That Gives Flight Attendants Generous Meal Breaks

Alaska Airlines has told flight attendants that it might close crew bases across California after the carrier lost an appeal against a lawsuit that gives flight attendants in the state generous meal break guarantees.

In a series of webcasts to explain the outcome of the lawsuit, Alaska Airlines told staffers that closing crew bases was a ‘worst case scenario’ but remained an option as the airline looks for a way to comply with California’s employee break rules.

Under the provisions of California’s Labor Code, employees who work for more than five hours are granted an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break. A second break is required for employees who work for more than 10 hours and transportation workers are entitled to an additional 10-minute break for every four hours at work.

The rules are far more generous than federal regulations that generally govern work and break rules for flight attendants and pilots. Airlines have warned that airfares will have to rise if they are made to comply with local state laws that govern employee breaks because they’ll need to employ more aircrew.

The case came about after a group of flight attendants at Virgin America brought a lawsuit accusing the airline of breaking California’s meal break rules. When Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America, it became a co-defendant and continued to fight the lawsuit.

Despite the airline’s best efforts, lawyers acting on behalf of Alaska Airlines failed to convince a San Francisco appeals court that sided with the flight attendants and ordered Alaska to comply with California’s labor laws.

Alaska appealed the decision to the Supreme Court but the highest court in the land turned out the appeal application last month.

The decision only applies to flight attendants who are based in California, so closing crew bases across the state would be one way to avoid the provisions of the labor code without withdrawing service from the state.

The flight attendant union has slammed Alaska Airlines for the suggestion that it could shutter bases in California saying such “dire warnings” aren;t necessary.

“In our opinion, it is extremely premature and unnecessarily anxiety-provoking of management to suggest that downsizing or closing California domiciles is anything but a worst-case scenario,” the Association of Flight Attendants told its members.

Alaska Airlines says it is still “carefully evaluating how to balance California law with the federal rules that cover airline crew duties.”

View Comments (10)
  • Flight Attendants are so underpaid and unprotected it is just awful. Most do it for the free travel. Hellofa way to have to get to see the world.

  • Sounds like counsel for AA failed to research case history. They should refer to Hertz v Friend where the Supreme Court ruled that for companies located in multiple States, the laws of where the business ia principally located are applied, which in this case would not be California.

  • So the plane takes off, at cruising altitude. Betty goes and takes her break. When she is done, the next one takes their break. This is not a complicated concept, every employer does the same thing to some degree. There is a part of the story missing here that makes this issue seem trivial. Probably some dumb union rule.

    • The part you’re forgetting is that the flight attendants, due to the new law California passed, have to be able to be completely off duty. Currently, even when you’re on a break in an aircraft, you are bound by FAA rules to assist in an emergency. So instead of being able to just take a break in the back of the plane, the flight attendant would need to not be in an aircraft to take the breaks per the new laws. So if a California-based flight attendant needed a lunch, the plane would need to land, mid-continent on a transcon flight, to allow them to have a duty-free lunch. Seems like a really great experience for all involved.

      • Many international flights are more than five hours, so according to California law, the flight attendants would need an uninterrupted 30-minute break. However, these international flights are not forced to land after five hours of flight. In addition, there are airline pilots based in California, and they are not forced to land the aircraft after five hours.

        As this affects many airlines beyond Alaska Airlines, there seems to be some misinterpretation of this law.

    • This is known as California Meal Penalty. It’s not new or complicated. What’s complicated is how companies interpret it. I work for a large payroll company and implementing this rule is normal in CA. Companies have the right to do what’s necessary to get arou d it but the best thing you can do is state you follow CA law when it comes to implementing your time & attendance in CA and let that discussion play out.

  • If Federal Minimum wage went up to $9.25 an hour, would the author of this article think it’s generous? Airline attendants need all the support they can get.

  • 30 min meal break is not too much to ask for… My opinion 30min is not enough I say atleast 45min. Air line company’s got huge bail out with tax payer money. Greedy

  • Airline crews who won the right to be treated like other employees who work in California primarily seem to be asking for work rules that other employees get. The writer obviously has an axe to grind because the word “generous” was thrown around a lot in this article. What makes getting breaks at work “generous”? Just because the FAA doesn’t require it doesn’t make it the decent thing to do. Welcome to the 21st century where employers need to go out of business if they can’t treat their employees right.

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