Unionized flight attendants — and flight attendants at airlines whose procedures mirror union work rules — get to work the most desirable trips based on seniority. In normal times senior flight attendants at large international airlines can jet away to Sydney, to Buenos Aires, to Paris while more junior flight attendants may overnight in Des Moines. Those longer trips aren’t just more exotic. They pay more in a short amount of time, have longer layovers, and may entail staying at better hotels.
Since Assigned Trips Are A “Property Right,” Flight Attendants Sell Them
American Airlines flight attendants have been to known to rent out their seniority. They bid for trips they don’t plan to fly, and then sell the opportunity to work those trips to junior colleagues. The average going rate in the past was about $200.
Three years ago American said they were going to crack down on the practice – that they had software set to flag ‘suspicious trip trades’. But it continues, mostly among legacy US Airways flight attendants.
United Airlines flight attendants have been known to do the same thing. United threatened to fire flight attendants for selling their trips.
The Practice Of Flight Attendant “Cartels” Continues Across American Airlines
The American Airlines flight attendants union reported to members in an update to crew based in Philadelphia this past week that the practice of “cartels” among their members continues,
We were advised that this is an issue across the system and is worse at some bases than others. It is an issue being discussed at very high levels, and Flight Service in several bases is addressing it. Sam stated that they are investigating credible reports sent to management, and they are being addressed.
Flight attendants who bid for a trip and are assigned that trip have a property right in the trip. But they’re not supposed to use their seniority to gain desirable trips and then sell those trips, they’re supposed to fly the trips themselves and trade only when scheduling presents a problem. In other words they only get a partial property right and there’s not supposed to be a secondary market.
The Real Problem Is Assigning Trips As A Property Right Based On Seniority
The airline is giving something of value (a trip to a desirable destination, that’s paid) based on seniority to one group of workers, that’s valued more by others (junior flight attendants). Naturally a secondary market develops, and both parties benefit from the exchange. However those outside of the exchange who are less senior are envious, and that’s bad for overall morale.
Ultimately airlines and their unions are fighting the symptom of a broken duty assignment system that gives trips to flight attendants who don’t want to work them simply because they’ve been at the airline longer, and assigns trips to flight attendants less well-suited to the customer service roles as well.