A United Airlines flight attendant allegedly spent 15 hours and 40 minutes on hold this weekend as they attempted to reach a crew scheduling department after severe weather and FAA tech issues snarled air traffic across the North East this weekend.
Most flight attendants are facing call hold times of 4+ hours amidst reports that United’s embattled scheduling department has lost track of where crew are due to the continuing disruption.
When Southwest Airlines faced a similar situation just before Christmas, the situation quickly spiralled out of control, and the airline was eventually forced to pull back its entire schedule to get things back on track.
United’s woes were initially caused by severe weather across the North East which lead to a number of ground stops and were quickly made worse by a communications power panel failure in the Washington DC area.
If that wasn’t bad enough, United’s CEO Scott Kirby has also blamed FAA staffing issues for the “unprecedented challenges” the airline faced over the weekend.
“The FAA frankly failed us this weekend,” Kirby told staffers in an internal memo. “The FAA reduced the arrivals rates by 40% and the departure rates by 75%. That is almost certainly a reflection of understaffing/lower experience at the FAA,” Kirby blasted.
“It led to massive delays, cancellations, diversions, as well as crews and aircraft out of position. And that put everyone behind the eight ball when weather actually did hut on Sunday and was further compounded by FAA shortages Sunday evening.”
Kirby doesn’t blame the current administration for the FAA’s deficiencies but he says he will be lobbying the current leadership to take immediate steps to prevent a similar meltdown this summer.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents crew members at United does, however, blame the airline’s current leadership for crew scheduling problems.
In one memo, the union said current hold times were both “unreasonable and unacceptable”.
United’s flight attendants are required to call the scheduling department for even minor schedule changes, but a lack of staff in that department means call hold times can quickly mount during ‘irregular operations’ leading to a snowball effect.
The crew union has called on United to bolster the scheduling department with more staff, although the airline has previously criticized the union for rejecting technology solutions that would negate the need for them to call the scheduling department in the first place.
Last year, crew scheduling issues became a major issue between the union and United’s management and the airline had hired more schedulers in an attempt to prevent similar issues this summer.
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.