American Airlines is preparing to close a flight attendant base in San Francisco according to several sources cited by respected aviation insider xJonNYC. The decision comes just months after the Supreme Court ruled that airlines must abide by California’s generous Labor Code for locally based flight attendants.
In a statement, a spokesperson for American Airlines confirmed that the carrier had decided to close its San Francisco crew base because there “are no plans to grow” in the city.
California grants employees who work for more than five hours an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break. A second break is required for employees who work for more than 10 hours, and transportation workers are generally entitled to an additional 10-minute break for every four hours at work.
A group of flight attendants at the now-defunct Virgin America airline took the airline to court over the carrier’s refusal to abide by California’s rest break laws because the airline argued, flight attendant rest breaks were governed by federal rules that superseded State laws.
Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America in 2016 and continued to fight the case arguing that airfares would have to rise if it were forced to comply with California’s break rules. A San Francisco appeals court, however, sided with the flight attendants.
The appeals process continued all the way up to the Supreme Court, but in a surprise judgement, SCOTUS decided in June that it would not hear the appeal.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the Supreme Court to deny the petition despite acknowledging that the lower court had probably ruled in favor of the flight attendants by mistake.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the Supreme Court to deny the petition by Alaska Airlines despite acknowledging that the lower court had probably ruled in favor of the flight attendants by mistake.
California’s minimum break guarantees are not only far more generous than federal rules, but they create several big issues that airlines have never had to deal with in the past.
For example, flight attendants might be excluded from any kind of work in the air during their break time. That might mean that airlines have to schedule more flight attendants than previously necessary to work a flight or give flight attendants more time between flights.
Alaska Airlines has also warned that, as a last resort, it could also shutter flight attendant bases in California rather than be forced to comply with the rules. The rules only impact flight attendants based in California working on intrastate flights, and Alaska is still exploring other options to comply with the SCOTUS ruling.
Alaska Airlines says it is still “carefully evaluating how to balance California law with the federal rules that cover airline crew duties.”
In a statement, American Airlines told us about the decision to shutter its San Francisco crew base: “Over the past few years, American’s network and schedule have evolved based on a number of factors, including our size, shifting customer demand and changes to our fleet.”
“As we look at the future of our network, we expect that San Francisco will maintain the same level of flying it does today, but there are no plans to grow San Francisco and no future flying prospects based on our current network strategy.”
“Because of that, we’ve made the difficult decision to close our San Francisco flight attendant base. Importantly, any SFO-based flight attendant who wants one will have a spot at another base. This isn’t a decision we take lightly and we’re committed to working with the SFO team to ensure a smooth transition to another base if they choose to continue flying.”
This article has been updated with a statement from American Airlines.
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.