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.