United’s own flight attendants are being encouraged to report themselves for delivering slow or poor service in a new concerted push to win an increase in staffing levels.
The call for flight attendants to self-report incidents in which passengers are left ‘frustrated or dissatisfied’ by their service is being led by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which is hoping that evidence of poor service will convince the Chicago-based airline to reverse staffing cuts.
All United flights operate with at least the minimum number of FAA-mandated flight attendants, but like many airlines, United staffs some flights with additional crew members to match the level of service that flight attendants are expected to deliver.
Additional crewing levels are most often seen on widebody long-haul flights featuring Polaris Business Class, but in 2018, United started to cut flight attendant positions in this cabin by introducing a variety of so-called ‘efficiencies’.
John Slater, United’s head of In-Flight Services, said at the time that the decision to introduce a new streamlined service flow and pre-plating entrees in casserole dishes had been based on “customer feedback”.
The Association of Flight Attendants has been attempting to win back the lost roles ever since, but even pickets outside airports in 2018 failed to change the mind of United’s management.
During the pandemic, United cut back onboard service levels, but now that those cuts are being reversed, the flight attendant union wants staffing cuts changed as well.
“With the recent increased workload onboard our aircraft, we know that reducing staffing levels or eliminating certain positions, can result in longer wait times for passengers to receive their meals, drinks, and other services,” the union told its members in a recent memo.
“This can lead to increased frustration and dissatisfaction among passengers and may result in a decreased level of service quality.”
Worryingly, the union fears fewer crew members onboard flights could “potentially put the safety of passengers and crew at risk” and increase flight attendant fatigue.
“Therefore, it is important for crew members to provide detailed, specific information on how the staffing and recent increased service changes have adversely impacted passenger safety and service,” the memo continued.
“This can help our Union assess the impact of the changes and take appropriate action to address with the company any safety or service concerns.”
Whether United has any intention of increasing staffing levels on select flights remains to be seen. The airline previously said the cuts were made to align United’s service with its competitors, suggesting that the airline won’t add flight attendants until one of its rivals does.
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.