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Forget Boarding Pay: United Airlines Flight Attendants Want to Be Paid For Every Hour They Spend at Work

Forget Boarding Pay: United Airlines Flight Attendants Want to Be Paid For Every Hour They Spend at Work

a plane flying in the sky

In the United States, flight attendants generally get paid a basic wage and an hourly flying rate, which, as the name implies, is only paid from the moment the plane pushes back from the gate to the moment the plane arrives at its destination.

The problem with flying pay is that flight attendants don’t earn anything for long periods they spend on the ground but are still at work. And some of this time is the busiest and most stressful for flight attendants, like boarding or during extended ground delays when passengers are still on the aircraft.

In addition, flying pay generally benefits flight attendants working international long-haul trips with lots of time spent in the air but only one period of boarding passengers for the entire duty day – a privilege commonly reserved for senior flight attendants who are already better paid.

In contrast, new-hire flight attendants on lower salaries lose out even more because they’re likely to work domestic trips with several flights scheduled on the same day, meaning they spend longer on the ground. Time spent working but not earning any money.

Only a couple of airlines have so far tried to at least partially offset this disparity by offering ‘boarding pay’ – both Delta Air Lines and Skywest pay flight attendants at 50% of their usual hourly rate for the time spent boarding passengers, although this doesn’t include check-in, briefings and other waits on the ground.

That’s why the United Airlines flight attendant union wants to go one step further and is now demanding the Chicago-based carrier introduce ‘Ground Time Pay’ as part of ongoing contract talks – again, as the name implies, Ground Time Pay simply means paying flight attendants for any time they spend on the ground.

Whether it be for boarding, check-in, or simply waiting in an airport between flights, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) wants United to pay its members at 50% of the normal flying rate.

This concept is normal practice for many international airlines outside of the United States, but for US carriers, this is proving to be a controversial shift in thinking that has snarled contract talks at several airlines, including United and American Airlines.

There is some movement in thinking, but airlines want to bake in the earning potential for flight attendants, whether it be with a larger share earned solely through Flying Pay or spreading out earnings through both Ground or Boarding Pay and Flying Pay.

Negotiations between United and the flight attendant union haven’t, however, been going well and earlier this month the union officially filed for federal mediation in an attempt to break a deadlock on several key areas of the contract.

Ken Diaz, president of the local flight attendant union, says he wants to expedite negotiations, but “progress has been slow. Too slow”.

“In response to management’s utter and complete failure to prioritize the needs of the Flight Attendant work group, we will be filing for Federal Mediation”, Diaz wrote on December 1.

“Actions speak louder than words,” the letter continued. “The pace at which management is willing to negotiate speaks volumes about their lack of respect for our contributions to the success and profitability of United Airlines”.

It is, of course, interesting that Delta and Skywest don’t have unionized flight attendant work groups and were able to quickly introduce the concept of boarding pay while their unionized peers at the likes of United and AA are trapped in years-long contract talks trying to get the same benefits.

View Comments (11)
  • That is how FAs should be paid. They should be paid starting a specific point, like 1 hour before scheduled departure and 20 minutes after doors open for passenger departure. The maximum pay should not be much higher than starting pay. A very senior FA is not better.

  • The total compensation will remain very close. A higher ground time pay will be offset with a lower flight time pay. Collective bargaining means the group must vote to accept their wages demands. If there are more senior FA, ground time may not be important. It all depends on the mix (senior to junior). Always remembering that junior FA become senior and want the international pay with fewer layovers (less ground time)

  • How do you think new hires develop the skills to be a flight attendant that have the experience and patience to work in an ever changing inflight environment. I know I continue to learn in my 45th year in the airline industry. It is the Unions and its membership that have made a great career that companies are hard at work and spending a lot of money to destroy!! All you have to do is look back to see how women were treated as they worked to better their jobs and make a safer and healthier workplace! It’s sad to see how companies want to destroy that. Good luck to those starting as airline workers. On the ground and in the air!

  • Flight attendants earn a salary…that covers the non fly time. Then they get more money for time flying. Now the want money for ground time. Then they don’t need the salary. That us why they have a salary, for the time not in the air.

    • Flight attendant are NOT salaried. They earn an hourly wage from the moment the pilot releases the brakes to the moment to puts brakes on at arrival. They do NOT get paid for boarding or any delays they spend on the ground – in many instances for many hours!! Sometimes, flight attendants are on duty for 12 hours, but only get paid for 5! Even if top paid flight attendant who gets $67 per hour gets paid for 5 hours, that’s $335, but if it’s on duty for 12, that’s only $28 per hour (and that top pay flight attendant and they don’t work those). Now, calculate new flight attendant who are making $27 per hour (27 x5= $135 divide by 12 = $11.25 per hour). That also means that the next day, the flight attendant is not legal to work many trips they otherwise would be if the duty day was shorter. In the end, they lose on possible income. Not to even mention the fatigue they feel after WORKING 12 hours. The company can extend the duty to 16 hours if it’s a creeping (mechanical/weather, etc delay)- ($135 divided b 15= $9 per hour). $9 per hour- while airlines are making historic record profits- BILLIONS!!!! And executives are giving themselves bonuses and are earning highest incomes ever!! Basically, you’re saying that it’s ok to pay flight attendants $9 ph while executives pay themselves millions.

      • Comparing executive pay to hourly employee pay is ridiculous and you will drive yourself mad with that angle. Executives are paid because they negotiated it… you need to hammer the union if you want higher pay. Ever check what your union executives are paid?

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