American Airlines Fires 50 Flight Attendants For Leaving Their Bases While On Reserve

Earlier this month I covered a memo from American Airlines to its flight attendants threatening to fire them if they aren’t near the airport when called to work a flight while on reserve. It turns out, according to the flight attendants union at the airline, that they’ve already terminated 50 cabin crew over this.

When flight attendants are on reserve they may never get called to work, but they’ll get paid. Some of them – disproportionately an issue with American’s younger crew, I understand – will roll the dice and guess they won’t be called in. So they stay home in the city they live in, rather than the one they’re based at for work (where they may have a shared crash pad). Then when they’re called for duty they aren’t available, and may say they’re sick.

When flight attendants are scheduled for a ‘reserve availability period’ they have to be able to report to the airport within two hours (three where a co-terminal is involved). American has been investigating instances of,

  • flight attendants ignoring their call up and missing a trip
  • no shows and missing a trip
  • calling in sick after they’re told they have to work reserve (when they’re sick they’re supposed to call out sick, not wait until they’re assigned a trip, of course this may get them attendance points)

What American will do – to potentially terminate a flight attendant after a single incident – is investigate their travel to see whether they were really in the city they were supposed to be in. Cabin crew, it seems, aren’t very good at covering their tracks.

[T]he Company will conduct a travel audit and compare it to your reserve schedule. They will conduct a 35R investigation. During this investigation, they will pull all your travel benefits history, including past, current AA listings, travel, and other airlines. They will use other evidence to substantiate their claim that a Flight Attendant was not in position to report within the contractual timeline.

Already American has fired 50 flight attendants in the past six months over this, and numerous additional investigations are underway.

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. For all the heartless out there, have you bothered to actually appreciate the facts of what is transpiring?

    AA changed the rules and seemingly did so to thin the senior ranks.

    Before you come back with, “They can quit,” we are talking about people with well over 20-years with the airline. They can’t just move to another airline straight across like one could in most jobs. They would be starting all over again.

    The ignorant attitudes expressed here highlight why unions exist.

  2. @1KBrad – information shared by AA FAs would seem to contradict your assertion. This situation does not generally involve senior FAs, but rather newer FAs who are sitting on the reserve list. And, FWIW, AA did not “change” the rules, they began enforcing them more strictly when it became apparent that some FAs were trying to skirt the rules to the detriment of the airline and the passengers.

    I come from a union family and am very pro-union, but unions cannot be used as an excuse for employees to flout the rules, engage in as little work as possible or simply provide poor service. Too many people like to hide behind their unions as a reason for not doing things. Not okay.

    Work is a choice. If you choose to work for the airlines as a FA you have to be proximate to the base at which you are assigned. It’s that simple. Don’t like the rules? Well, as a country we are at full employment. I am sure that there are plenty of other jobs available for the taking that do not require being on reserve.

  3. @SOBE ER DOC: The rules that were changed are that AA cut back on staffing severely during COVID and has not reinstated those positions as travel bounced back. With fewer scheduled position, reserve in some bases is affecting those with 30+ years on the job.

    When they were hired, one spent 12-18 months on reserve.

    Now the airline is severely punishing those who live out of base who have been forced into reserve.

    The union has attempted to have AA alter the present reserve system to no avail. The airline is pressuring the senior flight attendants on reserve.

    It is a situation all of AA’s making, and the fact they won’t change it demonstrates it is deliberate.

  4. I am an American Airlines flight attendant. SOBER ER DOC’s comments above are correct.

    A few years ago, when we merged with another airline, we voted on wether to keep the current reserve system, (which requires continuous reserve for the first year of employment and “rotating” reserve only a few months per year thereafter) or go with the system from the other airline (which requires continuous reserve indefinitely until there are enough people in your base hired after you to push you off reserve — which at American usually takes several years, not the 12 -18 months mentioned by 1KBrad above. The vote went in favor of the current system. Because the current system requires “rotating” reserve duty only a few months per year after the first year of employment, more of the senior flight attendants are needed to cover the reserve schedule. How “senior” reserve duty goes varies significantly from base to base depending on how “senior” the majority of the base is.

    Keep in mind that many flight attendants like the current system (I do) and that this system is now part of our negotiated contract and cannot be changed unilaterally by the company. Our union has been polling us to gage our interest in various proposed modifications to the current system in preparation for negotiations when our current contract expires.

    Most flight attendants do not enjoy reserve duty (I don’t) but it’s necessary for the airline’s operation and it’s part of the job requirements we all agreed to when we were hired.

    As for flight attendant staffing levels, they are not significantly different from our pre-COVID levels. All of us who were furloughed were called back more than a year ago and the airline has been actively hiring additional flight attendants for the past six months.

  5. I was hired by Piedmont Airlines that became USAirways and now American. I sat reserve in Charlotte for !5 years, I commuted to PHL when I couldn’t stand it anymore. The current system is BS, New hires should sit for 5yrs then go on a rotating schedule. The current situation is awful, I have been working for this company for 32 years and should not have to go on reserve, it is one thing when you are hired and in your 20’s but to be almost 60 and have to deal with this is a nightmare also it is a huge cut in your salary if you are on reserve for 4 months out of a year.

  6. Where is all this hand ringing and sense of outrage coming from? Former TWA flight attendants were stapled to the very bottom of the seniority list after the merger 20 years ago. It was not “the company” that screwed us, but our UNION. I actually had 43 years as a flight attendant when I retired in 2018. My very last trip was a RESERVE trip. Where was your outrage then??? Non- existent.

  7. I’ve had the displeasure of being onboard MANY AA flights in the last two years. Any care to guess how much sympathy I have for AA flight attendants? You don’t have to guess. I’ll tell you: ZERO. I have ZERO sympathy for AA flight attendants. They’ve nothing but harass the traveling public over the last two years. I’m glad they’re unhappy. They don’t deserve to be any other way.

  8. I would like to counter what CHRIS says:
    “May 1, 2022 at 5:55 pm
    I’ve had the displeasure of being onboard MANY AA flights in the last two years. Any care to guess how much sympathy I have for AA flight attendants? You don’t have to guess. I’ll tell you: ZERO. I have ZERO sympathy for AA flight attendants. They’ve nothing but harass the traveling public over the last two years. I’m glad they’re unhappy. They don’t deserve to be any other way.”

    I have had the pleasure, or just presence, of being onboard MANY AA flights in the last two years. I have plenty sympathy for flight attendants. Most are pleasant, hard working, caring and positive people, who have to deal with a**holes and first-world problem sufferers more so than most in our daily work life. I have never been harassed over the last two years by a Flight Attendant. Or ever. Have there been FA’s that just did the bare minimum? Sure. Do I always “show up” 100% or more in my job? Nope!

    FA’s deserve a decent living, and a courteous public. You won’t die if you do not get a pre-departure drink. In fact, you won’t die if you don’t get a drink on an hour long flight at all. Flight Attendants deserve a better public. If they get that, you will see that you get a better Flight Attendant in return.

    Let’s stop with the grossly overstated “Flight Attendants are terrible” trope. They simply aren’t.

  9. Airlines make it very clear what the rules are during interviews for Flight Attendants. They know what is expected of them at the time of hire and everyone’s shaking their heads yes. I dont feel bad for them at all. This is what you signed up for, there wouldnt be such a high turn over if people would just listen when entering this field.

  10. Listen,

    I will speak as someone who traveled since I was a child overseas on all the major international airlines and on the American ones (Domestic large US based airlines) and having worked for United, Delta and Frontier.

    US airlines in general suck. In terms of service and in terms of how they treat their employees. During training you literally starve to death because they don’t pay you anything and you are in class 12 hrs a day 6 days a week. And the one day a week off that you get, you usually have homework or exams the next day.

    The treatment usually is Awful, they think you are a machine to be worked to death, where you have to learn all this information they want you to learn in the shortest possible time, so they work you to the bone.

    Then many of them even charge obscene amount of money for the cheap uniforms they provide. Yes it should be free.

    All of this while the CEO’s make over a Million $$ a year in salary and bonuses and who does the ACTUAL work of dealing with the customers ??? It is NOT the CEO.

    But this is the way most American corporations work. It is modern slavery and most Americans don’t even see it.

    Yes, most Flight Attendants can’t even make a decent living while they are worked to death. Your time is owned by the company. Meanwhile the CEO is getting paid millions a year.

    Tell me that’s fair.

  11. @Timj how does that work? You know with APFA? A friend of mine was laid off from missing a trip on reserve

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