United Airlines Fired Key Members Of Its Flight Attendants Union

United Airlines fired to key members of its flight attendants union this week. The union is blisteringly angry. I first saw which flight attendants they were, and the union letter to its membership – and the company – via aviation watchdog JonNYC.

The union sent out a message saying they’re outraged. The note, under Sara Nelson’s signature and that of the head of the United union executive council, gave absolutely no specifics on the matter – who was let go, what was alleged, or any defense. It did link to a letter the union sent United.

It called United’s move lacking in respect for the union and damaging to the relationship between the union and airline. And they said that the ariline “aggressively questioned our AFA representatives about internal matters protected under the Railway Labor Act.”

All very mysterious! So I thought I’d pass along the story that’s been shared with me, while noting that I have not seen the court testimony or spoken with the flight attendants involved or the investigators. I am told that,

  • The two fired flight attendants took off their masks on a flight in 2020. A cabin crew member ratted them out (taking photos).

  • The flight attendants claimed the masks fell off while they were asleep during a break.

  • United launched an investigation, and since these are two ranking members of the union, the union is claimed to have obstructed the investigation.

  • And the junior flight attendant, who expected to lose their job due to the pandemic, is still at the airline – claims they’re being retaliated against by the union.

I certainly believe the flight attendants took their masks off which they weren’t supposed to do but like plenty of flight attendants do every day without getting fired. And I’m also persuaded that the retaliation is real and deserves termination. And I’d note that United has been willing to tell everyone where they can go, even when exposing themselves to legal risk but where they believe they’re in the right (Cf. anti-vax pilots with ‘religious exemptions’ who don’t like unpaid leave).

The United Airlines flight attendants union head Sara Nelson sought a legal ban on inflight alcohol and also wanted the federal government to make leisure travel illegal during the pandemic. The union also finds it unrealistic for passengers to expect clean lavatories.

No matter what you think of unions broadly, flight attendants unions aren’t customer-friendly. And they aren’t junior employee-friendly either, with senior crew taking the best schedules and selling them and refusing any sort of solidarity to save jobs of junior crew during the pandemic.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Oscar Muñoz has left the building.

    Delta flight attendants keep voting against unions precisely because of stuff like this.

  2. While all airlines suffer from employees whose interests do not reflect the best interests of the passengers (who pay the bills, by the way), the better airlines are NON UNION. The non union airlines are able to constructively hire, train and terminate those employees who don’t adhere to the best interests of the airline and the passengers. The unions are there to protect the jobs of the union members and the union’s bank account but not to protect the best interests of the employer and, more importantly, the people who “pay the bills”.

  3. How many were fired?

    You wrote “United Airlines fired to key members of its flight attendants union this week.”. I see no numerical value in that sentence.

    Are you really that lazy and careless?

  4. @Jason: must be great being so perfect you can be so sarcastic over a typo. What a dickhead. (Wait, is that one word, two, or hyphenated?)

  5. @Jason if you’ve read this blog much, you’ll know that grammar and spelling are not perfect. However, I think this blog’s content is the best among its peers, with great original analysis of airline news stories and the industry in general. I think content is the most important.

  6. @Ray – If this guy really wants to be known as a “Thought Leader in Travel” there’s no reason he shouldn’t do basic proofreading. Or correct himself when obvious mistakes are pointed out.

  7. @TA – I’m asking for basics. I read the blog a lot and I notice all sorts of issues. Lack of basic attention to detail undermines credibility. I’d rather focus on the message than the grammar, but when it’s this bad it’s hard not to focus on what’s wrong.

  8. I literally can’t understand this post.

    What does “And I’m also persuaded that the retaliation is real and deserves termination.” mean? Does it mean you believe the offense is real and deserving of termination, or do you mean you believe this is unjust retaliation which should be stopped (and the employees not fired)?

    Is the “junior crew member” who is still employed the “cabin crew member” who allegedly reported the other two, or one of the two flight attendants who was fired?

    The post mentions interrogation about internal union matters and, separately, an incident in which two crew members were fired for removing masks. Is the argument that the mask issue is a pretext for firing specific crew members who didn’t answer the company’s questions? Or are those crew members unrelated to the people who were questioned, and the argument is that United is retaliating against union leadership to punish some other employees?

  9. Hey Gary: Here’s a serious comment. LarryinNYC above is actually right when he asks, “What does ‘And I’m also persuaded that the retaliation is real and deserves termination.’ mean?”

    What does that sentence mean? Truly, I really do want to know.

  10. Gary, there are some real paradoxical statements in your post, and I think you’d benefit from sharing who the “they” is, and who is being retaliated against and for what actions. I appreciate your sharing this story with us, but the post needs some editing, some of us think. Thanks.

  11. During a horrendous flight back from the Christmas holiday, I was tortured by an FA who insisted that my mask reach up to my eyeballs at all times. She wouldn’t quit harrassing me for the 6-hour flight. Other than one biz trip next week, I won’t be flying until the mask rule is gone. Seems to me there might be a ‘rebellion’ going on … FAs have been trained to do their jobs in certain ways, with strong restrictions across the board on how things should be done. I see this growing batch of stories about FAs behaving badly as a purely human reaction to finally having some power. It’s not pretty, especially to those of us with hundreds of thousands of miles flown over the years … not to mention the cost of a first-class seat, whether it be cash or miles. And the baloney about serving food being
    ‘dangerous’ … who would believe that garbage? FAs spent hours yapping together in the galley before the virus; even with full service they had plenty of downtime. They just don’t want to ‘go back to work’. It will be interesting to see what the airplane climate is like after the mask rule disappears and the FAs have to go back to doing their jobs properly.

  12. The 1st sentence in the article United Airlines fired to key members of its flight attendants union this week.

    It should read “ two”. Thats how many were fired.

  13. Win says:
    February 10, 2022 at 6:25 am
    “While all airlines suffer from employees whose interests do not reflect the best interests of the passengers (who pay the bills, by the way), the better airlines are NON UNION.”

    There is an incredible urge to believe that the U.S. is best in everything, along with unions are the cause of all ills. Time to grow up Win. Europe does quite well, in spite of what you do not know. Having retired to Malta three years ago, we often travel throughout Europe several times a year. All employees are union. In flight service better than any I have experienced in U.S. (UA, AA, DL). Hot food and booze served in clean business class seats throughout the pandemic. Customers obey the rules, and wear masks. They don’t start fights in the aisles or in the airport. Flight attendants do not lord it over customers. They are helpful and friendly. Maybe your bone to pick is with U.S. airlines. Whether union or not, U.S. airlines do not match what LH offers all its customers.

  14. I agree the language context is unclear in this post. My interpretation is that the junior flight attendant reported the noncompliant senior attendants (for improper mask behavior) thereby incurring the wrath of the union. If I take the interpretation one more step, it is the union members retaliating against the jr flight attendant and that is the probable cause of termination. I may be incorrect in my assumptions but it’s the most plausible sense I could make of his post.

  15. How many people took COLAs, voluntarily furloughed, took the early out? The furlough numbers were facing 13,000 and they brought it down to 5500. Seniors did what they could to prevent juniors from being furloughed. Yes, I was furloughed involuntarily, but I was going to be no matter what. I am grateful they were able to save so many jobs. Congrats for outing these FAs. You moved up 2 spots out of 23,000. High 5.

  16. Isn’t one of these flight attendants married to the pilot that was caught giving himself self love in the window of the Westin at DIA? He got off (in court) over a technicality that they didn’t read him his rights. Maybe she can get the same high power lawyer to argue her case?

    The family that FAFO’s together, stays together.

  17. United and all airlines should have used the 2020 Covid travel shutdown to fire all flight attendants and sever the union contracts with the airlines. It could have rehired them at high wages (conservatives support good workers being paid well) but without the ridiculous union centric rules that allow bad workers to be the norm and provide poor service because unions protect the worst workers. The airlines would have the leverage in hiring and even if those hired cared to be represented by unions, the unions would have no leverage (little flying in 2020).

    Instead, airline management wasted their enormous opportunity and wasted billions of dollars in shareholder money and brought goodwill harm to its image by taking government support when these flight attendants should have been fired and put on unemployment.

  18. @Marha Davis – Anyone who says “there’s so much wrong” without naming a single thing clearly has a credibility issue. In fact what I wrote here is accurate.

  19. Due to the nature of this issue, it would seem reasonable to reach out to the parties terminated. This investigation is far more than commentary by senior heads of both AFA and United. Though legal documents regarding the original lawsuit can be found online, much of the details eluded the legal jargon. You represent an opinion that most flight crew (both senior and junior) do not share. You have made it clear that you believe unions are “Not passenger-friendly” and “only protect senior members” when that is the farthest thing from the truth. The MAJORITY of cases presented to the union involve junior flight attendants. During these uncertain and dangerous times, flight attendants find themselves in hazardous situations due to passengers’ unacceptable behavior, leading to immense undo stress. I can genuinely say that the union representatives spend hours and days fighting for ALL members’ jobs. I acknowledge your opinions as being your own and would like to hear more about what led you to this conclusion. Please respond to this comment if you would like to discuss this further.

  20. I think I can reasonably say what happened based on my experience as an FA at another airline. It was 2020, the year all this crap started, when passengers came on with masks and face shields, and sometimes in and out of New York (when it was the epicenter for COVID) goggles, gloves, and “hazmat suits”–those white painters onesies.

    Anyway I’d say the junior FA was living in fear of Covid and is/was the mask police. He/she was one who constantly harassed passengers in flight if their mask slipped down or if they didn’t replace it fast enough after eating. So this person saw his/her co workers sleeping with their masks off so they could breathe oxygen instead of their own carbon dioxide and was a tattletale, to include taking pictures. He/she was so paralyzed by fear and irrational thinking. Instead of overlooking things, they told inflight management. I do believe this person is being retaliated against. They were a snitch and no one likes a snitch no matter what job they do. As Gary said flight attendants remove their masks all the time, especially as we get further and further away from 2020 and everyone has Covid burnout and just want to get back to normal.

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