Academy Award Nominee Jessica Chastain Takes Up Flight Attendant Pay Justice on Twitter

Actress Jessica Chastain is aghast that flight attendants aren’t ‘getting paid’ during boarding, they are working, how can this be legal she wants to know?

The American Airlines twitter team explained it succinctly – this is how the union-negotiated contract works – but Ms. Chastain couldn’t quite fathom this. That has to be illegal, right?

The Academy Award nominee isn’t alone. Several flight attendants who read this blog feel they shouldn’t have to serve predeparture beverages since they ‘aren’t getting paid’.

Predeparture beverages are one of two things that most drive premium customer perception of their cabin crew. The other is being addressed by name. For what it’s worth my success rate receiving a predeparture beverage has gone up in recent months. The way the contract is written hasn’t gotten in the way of that.

How to calculate flight attendant pay is potentially a tricky issue. What is the flight attendant’s workplace — is it the airport? the crew room? the plane? That’s important to answer to determine when to start paying. What if a flight attendant is late off another flight, and boards after other flight attendants, should they be paid less for working that flight through no fault of their own? Indeed should each crewmember on a flight have their pay calculated differently?

And what about when they’re working reserve — “on call” rather than assigned to flights, but paid a minimum number of hours they probably don’t work — should those hours not be paid since they aren’t on the aircraft?

These are exactly the sort of questions that American’s flight attendants union negotiates over and they have a common metric they’ve agreed-upon. While they calculate pay from time of doors close, their pay covers required work before that.

Other airlines take similar approaches. Delta’s flight attendants aren’t unionized, but don’t worry too much about them.

I wanted to like Molly’s Game, in which Chastain played the lead, because I’m a big Aaron Sorkin fan, since he wrote the script and it was his directorial debut. I watched it on a flight last year from Shanghai to Tokyo Narita and was disappointed.

(HT: @djjohnpayne)

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, 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. I love Ms. Chastain, but come on. “How is this legal?” Jessica: volunteering is legal, unpaid interns are legal, so not sure why it would be AGAINST THE LAW to not be paid for certain moments on the job, particularly as a salaried employee.

  2. My thoughts are this:

    1. If this is the case in black and white why are the unions allowing it? Maybe there is more to the reasoning?
    2. Seems to be pretty common sense that a F/A should be paid from the time they are required to check in at the airport to the time they leave. If it were that simple….

    I imagine there is more to this. Perhaps it has something to do with crew times and restrictions.

  3. @James — There are actually labor laws that restrict unpaid interns; basically it has to be educational and not a mere employment relationship. Some internships do not comply, but technically employers could be fined for treating interns like regular employers if they are not paying them minimum wage.

    More generally the Fair Labor Standards Act requires payment of overtime based on all hours an employee worked. For most businesses it would not be lawful to not pay when someone is working by greeting customers, etc. Airlines and other common carriers have a special exemption from the FLSA passed by Congress. Hence they don’t have to pay overtime to flight attendants, pilots, etc., and are free to enter into union contracts where pay is technically calculated only based on the flight time.

    But it’s not surprising people are confused. Most employees are subject to FLSA rules and must be paid for all of the time they worked.

  4. Clearly she doesn’t understand the complex contracts. There are many many great perks that is written into the contract. On top of that, senior Flight Attendants make $60 plus an hour to bring you drinks.

  5. It’s a shame that no one involved in this entire discussion, including the accusing actress, the flight attendant she spoke to, and the commenters knows how the flight attendant contracts work. They get paid a nominal amount, say a couple bucks an hour, when they are performing duties not in the air. When they get into the air, their pay scale goes up to $20 to $60 or more per hour, depending on airline, seniority, etc. This blended rate is always well in excess of minimum wage.

    The fact that the flight attendant does not even know how she is paid is just sad.

    Move along, everybody. This is a non-issue.

  6. @Tino +111111111111

    Total, bottom line comp — the “blended rate” as you called it — is all that matters.

    Anybody who disagrees must have an ironclad argument to the contrary, or is just not a very bright individual.

  7. Aircrews receive an hourly allowance toward expenses from the time we report for work until we leave our base. It’s true we don’t receive full pay until the flight “commences”, as captured by the boarding door closing, but there are many perks we receive as aircrew that this is a small trade-off for work we perform before that door closes.

  8. What about pilots!? Regional airline pilots make less than 40K per year and never get paid when they aren’t flying.

  9. I wanted to comment on the Molly’s Game review, but there isn’t enough space.
    Why could AmericanAir note that cabin crew members are paid are paid for every hour worked?
    Why not the union, since they negotiated the contract?
    Gary alludes to this when he said “their pay covers required work before the doors are closed.”
    Which leads to my big question: if a plane full of customers sits on the tarmac for four to six hours due to a weather delay, while the flight crew is making full rate, what incentive does the crew have to return to the gate?
    Perhaps change the crew pay rates from door closed time to typical flight time. Certainly dont give the pilot any reasons to go the scenic route so the crew makes an extra buck. What if that was the real reason Ms. Jess was late for her flight? Could we expect AA or their unions to point that out?

  10. No doubt the complexities of airline operations mean that staff remuneration must necessarily be more complex than either a straight salary or a clock in / clock out hourly rate. Still, if Gary’s statements that American crew regularly complain that they’re “not being paid” for pre-departure work then clearly the pay structure is not well aligned with the airline’s interests and ought to be changed to one that produces the desired result.

  11. Joe….$60 to bring you drinks…….You are obviously as ignorant as your insight as to exactly why FA’s are on your flight. I am certain you would be the one screaming like a baby and pushing yourself to the front of the aisle in case of any emergency. Or the get off the plane in front of others because you are so important You have no clue what a flight attendant does to prepare for you,
    We have saved countless lives and xacrifice our safety every single trip to save yours.
    Enjoy your specified Scotch on the rocks (one cube) and soda on the side (half glass) on your pre departure. Sir,

  12. Excuse my ignorance, but in general, is there a reason why flight attendants wouldn’t just be salaried employees with their salary sort of adjusted to their projected amount of actual work time plus best guess adjustments for average delay/cancellation/IROPS time?

  13. My first thought is if the flight attendants have a problem with it, their union needs to be fixing it. Frankly the American twitter response seemed correct, their union negotiated this.

    Then my next question is, are all flight attendants at all airlines compensated in this kind of scheme?

  14. The “blended” rate as you refer to it being well above minimum is untrue. I calculated the amount of hours I was required to be on duty divided by my pay for 2018, and it was far below. Poverty rate, actually. I don’t have the longevity it takes to make it to the 60+ range.
    I will remain at poverty level for 5 years.

  15. Interesting argument all around but let us not forget that American, as well as Delta and probably all the others, have waiting lists of people wanting a job as a flight attendant.

    So they complain…as most employees do…but they line up to get the jobs. I don’t think AA needs to worry about THIS PROBLEM when they have so many others.

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