Flight attendants at American Airlines say they are “sick and tired of being ignored” by their own management, who they claim are “intent on punishing” crew for what they describe as the company’s “inability to properly staff and run the airline”.
In an extraordinary memo, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) claims managers have ignored their suggestions and instead threatened crew with more volatile working conditions as an “implicit punishment” for the union’s “audacity to raise concerns.”
The root cause of the bad blood between the union and the Dallas Fort Worth-based carrier is the company’s apparent reliance on so-called ‘reserve’ flight attendants who don’t have guaranteed trips and don’t know what they’ll be working from one day to another.
Being on ‘reserve’ can be an understandably stressful experience and is normally only something that the most junior flight attendants have to endure before they become a ‘line holder’ with a set monthly schedule of flights.
But the union claims management has been assigning reserve duties to an unnecessarily high number of flight attendants, which is having a major impact on the lives of its members.
The airline initially blamed higher-than-average sickness levels for the need to assign reserve duties to more flight attendants in order to cover for flight attendants who might call in sick at the last minute.
But even though the union claims absenteeism has fallen, American Airlines is planning to increase the number of reserve flight attendants by 300 in January.
The airline blames operational issues and union work rules for the increase, while APFA national president Julie Hedrick accuses the airline of punishing flight attendants and the union for raising issues about reserve numbers.
This issue isn’t new but it does appear to be getting worse. In August, the union said American Airlines had “zero consideration” for its flight attendants and said poor trip construction was behind the need for so many reserve duties.
“APFA’s position is consistent: Flight Attendants want lower reserve numbers, humane trip construction, and the flexibility that our scheduling tools afforded us pre-pandemic,” the union told its members in an internal memo.
And in an open letter that flight attendants are being encouraged to send to the airline, they continue: “We are sick and tired of being ignored. Stop turning your backs on constructive dialogue with our Union and improve the work/life balance for your Flight Attendants.”
The union and the airline are currently negotiating a new contract with boarding pay and various quality-of-life improvements at the heart of the talks. The two sides are currently far apart on a number of issues, and flight attendants have already staged an ‘informational picketing event’ at airports in protest at working conditions.
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.