American Airlines Blames The CARES Act For Lack Of Catering On Dallas Flights

The CARES Act and successor spending bills gave $79 billion from U.S. taxpayers to airlines. But American Airlines is blaming the laws for its inability to catering flights out of Dallas – Fort Worth with beverages and snacks.

At a recent employee question and answer session, a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing, a flight attendant asked CEO Doug Parker about catering problems in Dallas and Charlotte. Parker responded by blaming catering companies who have been unable to to hire employees.

American Airlines officially brought back snacks and beverage service (but no alcohol) to economy cabins on June 1. However the crewmember was frustrated by 3 and 4 hour-long flights with nothing to serve passengers, which they felt makes the volatile situation with passengers frustrated over masks even worse.

Parker explained the problem,

We did start catering flights June 1, and what we have found…what I’ve been told, this is largely a DFW issue. It is related to the fact that our caterer in DFW [LSG Sky Chefs] cannot in today’s environment hire enough drivers to cater the airplane.

It’s a driver issue. The drivers unfortunately are required to have a commercial drivers license. There’s a little bit of a lead time on it. They weren’t prepared to ramp up.

As I know you’ve all heard jobs around the country that pay something around $15, $16 an hour, the CARES Act that helped all of us also included some supplemental unemployment provisions that makes it so that in general if you’re unemployed you can make around $16 an hour on unemployment so it’s awfully hard to convince people to work for the exact same amount they can be paid not to work for obvious reasons.

Parker noted the problem attracting employees doesn’t just affect catering, but “We had the same issue with wheelchairs by the way. These are not excuses I’m just telling you what’s going on.”

American has been “ramping up faster and [caterers] haven’t been ready. Of course we knew that was an issue.” Parker says if they can’t fix it they’ll scale back flights or scale back drink service,

We wouldn’t have started this if we didn’t think we could do it. The real point is we’re not going to keep doing it if, we got this far without going and sending carts up and down the aisle. There was no requirement to do it on June 1. If indeed it can’t be provided we’ll pull the schedule down or they figure out a way they can provide it.

Brady Brynes, who manages inflight service for American, offered that the problem is keeping airport Starbucks closed too: “You’ve seen some of the Starbucks locations closed…they’re not closed because they weren’t making money. They’re closed because they can’t find anybody to work.”

They knew they had a problem according to Byrnes, but decided it was better to move forward with drink and snack service anyway: “Why punish the system or the masses for DFW” so they rolled out service to flights even though one station would have a problem.

The airline felt they needed to add back service as a result of conversations with corporate customers, competitor airlines offering service, and pressure from partners Alaska Airlines and JetBlue who have tight relationships with American but more inflight offerings.

Byrnes added that the driver problem the developed after bringing back some service would have affected continued distribution of plastic bags with bottled water and cookies, too, because the labor shortage wasn’t in assembling the service items it’s in delivery to the aircraft.

What they’ve been doing to relieve the Dallas issue is “flyover provisioning, instead of double provisioning [beverages and snacks on flights] out of Dallas we double provision flights out of a different city [when flights will go] through Dallas” so that catering trucks do not “have to touch the aircraft out of Dallas to save that driver for another flight.”

Ultimately though the package of legislation that was supposed to help the airline industry ramp back up is holding them back, Parker thinks, because their catering provider can’t find truck drivers with commercial licenses to work cheap enough as a result.

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. Perhaps if Doug Parker fought for the catering companies to keep employees (or if American still owned them and they were treated like airline employees) in the Jobs Act he wouldn’t have such a hard time getting them back now.

    Pilot shortages will be coming next as older pilots retire, and the pay at the regionals isn’t worth the $60k in training expenses. They may also run into flight attendant shortages of they start realizing the pay at the beginning of the career isn’t worth it for the poor hours.

  2. Doug Parker is simply not forthright. American Airlines continues to restrict their service to improve their cost structure at the expense of the airline’s customers whether they are in First Class or Economy. They are still serving the same pathetic food in first class (turkey sandwich and cheese plate) that they have been serving to the passengers including their pilots for the last 16 months in order to save costs even on their cross country flights despite their claims that they are resuming meal service. In the world of American Airlines, they actually believe what they say. Unfortunately, actions do matter. The flight attendants actually joke about the food as they shamefully serve it.
    As a frequent victim over the past weeks of AA’s shell game of too many flights and too few crews, the solution is simple. Maintain a flight schedule that you can properly staff and service like other professional organizations and stop the unecessary disruption of people’s lives and livelihood. Until the FAA and our elected representatives hold AA accountable for their game of flying roulette, American Airlines will continue to take our money to the bank as they did with $79 billion dollars of PPP taxpayer funds. Unfortuanately, AA’s lobbyists are doing a great job as passengers continue to be fleeced.
    This is a successful service model of incompetence and exploitation.

  3. @Stuart What type of premium do you think it takes to get someone to work instead of collect unemployment? For an additional $4 an hour would you expect so one to go work an 8 hour day (let’s generously call it $30 extra after taxes). $8 an hour? Let’s say $10, as that’s a 50% increase in net take home, which will probably motivate enough people (but not all) that the company can hire however many it needs to hire. Now their labor costs have jumped 60%. And every single penny of that is a direct hit to the bottom line. And in a low margin business, that’s enough turn a reasonable profit into a meaningful loss.

    Someone is paying paying them more. The government.

  4. I don’t think the CARES Act keeps people from returning to work. Unless the CARES Act invalidates state unemployment compensation laws, people getting UC benefits must be actively looking for work and must accept an offer of suitable work in order to remain eligible for benefits. If people were making $16/hr. before Covid and now get a job offer paying $16 or more, in general they must accept the job offer or have benefits cutoff. Unemployment comp isn’t a free ride that a former employee gets to enjoy for as long as they feel like it.

  5. If there were any justice, Parker and all the other airline C level execs (Banks and Wall Street as well) should have their estates liquidated and the proceeds of the auctions given back to the tax payers that have been supporting the airlines in bailout after bailout since 9-11. Anything short of that is just a crime against the working people of the US. In a capitalist society like we supposedly have in this country, businesses should fail and those with better leadership who properly prepare for tough times will prosper. Using the hard earned 35-45% taken at gun point in taxes from the middle class that do all the real work in this country to bail them out should be a crime. Too bad 95% of Americans are just to damn stupid to understand this, as will be evidenced by the follow up comments I am sure.

  6. Saying “people are lazy and just want to get money for nothing,” is such a gaslight. People will work, but after a year and a half of the poor and middle class giving up our lives in order to make sure the millionaires and billionaires continue to grow their wealth through the pandemic the unskilled laborers that the media and government declared “essential” are tired of being treated like cattle by giant corporations. You want people to work for you, pay them a consistent living wage with benefits. You can take a pay cut if your company can’t afford it. Don’t worry, you’re not even close to being in danger of being homeless.

  7. The problem is cost cutting at American airlines. We flew AA50 on June 23rd in flagship first class. There was no flagship first dining or flagship first lounge. Their excuse, they can’t open due to COVID-19 restrictions. The problem is that the TX governor opened 100% open restaurant dining back on March 10th. Wait, it gets worse. The meals served in flagship first are exactly the same as business class! The first class menus were the business class menus. This is an insult to anyone paying the premium over a business class ticket. It didn’t end there. There were no jammies or slippers in first class either. Epic fail due to cost cutting. Fortunately, I flew on miles instead of my wallet.

  8. @Steve Case , WRONG !!! Airports are Federally Mandated , not by the state. So that’s why we still have to wear mask and all COVID restrictions still apply @ DFW.

  9. Flew mainline 737 flight yesterday in AA first class. Despite delayed takeoff (and increasingly warm interior during the delay), there was no pre-flight beverage and no snack basket. I would have paid for a simple pre-flight water to deal with the stuffy cabin climate. I thought at least those minimal amenities were supposed to have returned by now, but we ended up with less than I’ve received in most economy flights.

  10. Gary-

    Update: AA solved the problem. Just cancel flights for lack of crew and “unprecedented weather”. Then no one cares about snacks.

  11. People are lazy and won’t go to work if they make enough getting UC. My ex is a great example of this. He had a job before covid, then got laid off. Once the enhanced UC kicked in, he never looked for a job. Told me that once it goes away he will go out get a job, likely in October. In the meantime he has been partying his butt off but not paying his rent because he didn’t have to. There are many like him in this country.

  12. Steven Case: Wow….you are worse than a tired four year old. You seriously need to get over yourself. You didn’t even pay for the meal you are so butt hurt that you didn’t get. You still got a Business class meal that you didn’t pay for either. Grow up.

  13. @john You do know it’s fairly easy to game the UC system? Yes, you have to “look” for work, but no one checks on whether you really did. All you need to do is file your report saying you did. It’s fairly easy to make stuff up. They rarely check if you really did. And if you were worried about being checked up on, it’s also fairly easy to make yourself undesirable – show up late, don’t shower for a few days, apply for jobs you aren’t qualified for, give bad answers, insult the interviewer, etc. Look, no job! Give me a check!

  14. For every person who gets kicked off the enhanced unemployment benefits because of alcoholic, whining jerks like Doug Parker, how about AA loses a proportional amount of the billions in handouts they took from CARES funding. Airline traffic is back – clearly AA didn’t need that much.

    Also let’s not allow facts to get in the way, eh, Doug Parker? In FL and TX among other states, the enhanced benefits ended last week. If people don’t come running back to the $14 hour jobs at the airport, that’ll prove other forces are at work. For example, people made other plans while you and your executive management laid them off while you continued to feed at the trough. You’d have to be desperate to commute to DFW or MIA for that low of pay. No wonder those former employees have flocked elsewhere.

  15. Says a company that took billions – let’s gripe about the little man/woman getting something. I do understand the issue but it is hard to swallow big takers griping about a small taker. Corporations never see themselves as government welfare cases, they only see the poorer of society as takers.

  16. ZeeMan you are correct!!Companies are paying more but till benefits stop they will not get workers and if you heard Demented Joe’s speech the other day. !! “Employees are in the catbird seat…” so business’s can go bankrupt!! No problem

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