American Airlines and Southwest offered substantial incentives for crew to work over the holidays, avoiding sick calls. While they faced cancellations over the weekend, those weren’t near the levels of United and Delta. I warned that financially incentivizing crew not to call out sick could wind up spreading the virus because it penalized crew who might be under the weather if they didn’t show up (losing out on things like triple pay).
My sense is that where American did cancel flights over the holiday weekend, it was more due to unavailable pilots than flight attendants. There was no deal in place to pay pilots extra to avoid call outs.
I’ve been criticized, mostly by flight attendants, for suggesting that they would ever come to work sick – and by some managers for suggesting the airline would encourage this. I was not suggesting all flight attendants would do this, or that it’s the intent of the airline, but at the margin the high cost of not showing up to work – not just foregoing premium pay for a trip, but losing out on a perfect attendance bonus close to earning it at the end of the holiday period – could push someone to show up or shade their perception of whether they’re really sick, perhaps wondering if something might just be allergies and whether they’re still alright to fly in a circumstance that they’d have considered scrapping the trip in a different year.
American Airlines flight AA2578 from San Diego to Miami last night appears to be just the sort of flight that I had in mind, where a flight attendant went to lengths to try to show up – as incentivized by premium holiday pay – even when they were too sick to fly., according to a reliable source.
I’m told that one of the flight attendants was sick but went to the airport anyway, intending to fly, but called in sick once they’d arrived. There’s a second hand suggestion that the crewmember had Covid symptoms, but this isn’t necessary for the point. The flight wound up cancelling and the remaining crew – two pilots and three flight attendants – operated the aircraft to Miami without passengers as American Airlines AA9782.
Since the crew was below the FAA minimum of 4 (one flight attendant per 50 passenger capacity) the aircraft which was booked to 171 passengers out of 172 seats couldn’t operate as a commercial flight and so the redeye at the end of the holidays was cancelled. But the plane was still needed in Miami the next day.
Incentives alone can’t keep really sick crew working. And it’s worth noting that despite an incentive program in place to encourage attendance, JetBlue still faced significant cancellations over the holiday period.
Nonetheless it’s an informed guess to suspect that once holiday pay premiums lapse January 3 we’ll see more crew willing to call in sick (though after the period in which they’ve historically had reason to call out even when not actually sick).
..-does- turn out to be the case, I'd still posit personally that it's a trade-off that AA would have made, even willingly, for having made it through the Christmas travel period substantially better than it's competitors
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) December 27, 2021
I’m actually glad that the flight attendant scheduled to work AA2578 made the decision to call out sick, even if it was at the last minute! Better for passengers to be cancelled on than to have service in the aisle from someone that’s ill, even if they didn’t know or understand the tradeoff at the time their flight was canceled.
And certainly better for the rest of the crew to remain healthy. And better for the airline because one cancel from one sick flight attendant is better than the cascading effect from several crewmembers getting sick and having subsequent cancels. It’s striking though that there wasn’t a single reserve flight attendant available in a base airport from which multiple redeyes are scheduled.
Here the flight attendant had to give up their perfect attendance bonus if they hadn’t called out sick yet. I wish America had an exception that wouldn’t penalize employees for not showing up to work if they presented with a positive Covid-19 test.