American Airlines Flight Attendants Are Selling Their Job Duties To Other Employees

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.

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. I’ve noticed that making repeated empty threats doesn’t seem to work out all that well. Maybe the airlines should learn the same and either leave the system alone or fix the problem.

  2. Why does anyone who doesn’t work for AA or UA care?

    What business is it of ours?

    As long as the flights leave on time, great! Wouldn’t you prefer a happy crew who wants to work that flight?

    This blog is getting really boring. Points guy writes about real stuff not this crap. He’s been invited on TV to comment on travel and clearly this is an example why…. This blog is about dividing people and not discussing real travel issues and news.

  3. FAs shouldn’t be unionized at all. It’s a fundamentally replaceable position that we treat like a quasi-public sector labor group. It’s insane.

    With how good AI and big data is becoming, there’s no reason why crew assignments shouldn’t be completely automated, and done in a way that maximizes efficiency. Instead of this nonsense system where young FAs can never get ahead, and the same Sky Hags can squat on DFW-HKG for years and do beneath the minimum effort.

    It would hurt in the short-term, but AA should bust the union. As should all US airlines.

  4. Just a guess, but I’ll bet all those payments aren’t declared on tax returns.

  5. Airlines purchase carbon credits to become carbon neutral.
    Junior flight attendants purchase a better duty assignment to avoid staying overnight in a bedbug-infested hotel located in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Des Moines.
    And, passengers still get crappy service. If the airline can fix one problem at a time, please uncrap your passenger service.

  6. Why not just still keep the seniority system but stop the ability to swap.

    Seems like a simple solution to keep the senior ones from booking frivolous trips.

  7. The “bust the unions” comment coupled with the “sky hags” comment clearly comes from an uninformed individual. I’d like to know why William feels this sort of negative commenting is necessary. To me, it shows that he has no clue what seniority means in the airline industry.

  8. Who is the aggrieved party here?

    I find international FAs with high seniority can be hit or miss — some are terrific, some don’t giving a flying fig about service and consistency. But younger FAs can be equally unpredictable — some will jump through flaming hoops of fire, others are just bad at the job.

  9. As reported by bizjournals, “An AA spokesman on Monday said management believes the problem is occurring primarily among the 8,000 or so U.S. Airways legacy flight attendants who joined the ranks of AA flight attendants when the two carriers merged in 2012. The legacy U.S. Airways FAs and legacy AA FAs expect to be fully integrated into one flight attendant unit as of Oct. 1.”

  10. William strikes me as a young, junior “frustrated” flight attendant who is upset at the Seniority based system – because he isn’t getting “instant gratification” and he can’t fly Paris or Hong Kong or Tokyo at his seniority level. Calling Senior Attendants “Sky Hags” evinces his blatant envy for those who through perseverance and hard work have EARNED those desirable trips over many decades.
    He’s resentful of Unions because he has yet to EARN the benefits of that system.
    You know the old saying – PAY YOUR DUES !!!!!!

  11. People like William are the reason I quit flying. There are very few good paying union jobs left in this country, and flight attendants work decades to be able to be off on holidays – something most Americans take for granted. The shrinking middle class can be directly traced to the decrease in good paying union jobs. But hey – if you want to fly to London for $99, then you can find your own way out of the aircraft if it catches on fire because some idiot was smoking in the lavatory…

  12. Gary. Who are you sleeping with at AA and why do you care so much about the internal relationships between airlines’ employees. You must be one screwed up creep.

  13. Is there no AA minutiae that is not your business that you won’t write about? How bidding works and how trades are done are none of your or your readers’ concern. You are often way off the mark when it comes to such things, such as when you wrote about our reserve system a while back. Again, none of you business and you had no contextual understanding.

    Gary, I’ve often wondered, what AA FA broke up with you and hurt you? Your obsession is unhealthy.

  14. I’m not sure how people have decided Des Moines is a bed bug rat infested city or why they would decide to even say it on a blog?

    Clearly the points guy is creating a past president “hate” self righteous mentality and people who have clearly never traveled, worked or lived outside a 50 mile radius of their own little disney world choose to make make ignorant comments.

    I make more money sleeping in my own bed in a very nice home in a very nice neighborhood of DSM than I do going to a congested dirty, overly expensive city of Paris because of working a unionized job.. My choice

  15. Mark r, non of these senior flight attendants have “earned” these good trips though. They’ve just been around longer. In a safety profession such police officers, pilots or firefighters it makes sense to have a seniority based system. In a customer service based industry such as being a flight attendant, seniority based systems seem inappropriate for satisfying consumers

  16. If you cant work the flight because its too long, too many hours on layover and God forbid you have to interact with the Passengers at $40-50 US dollars per flight hr and $3.00 US per diem. You need to retire. You have lost your desire to fly and work. Stop being selfish. Why put yourself thru re current each yr when you hate your job but do it anyhow, only because your senior and arrogant and you love throwing your seniority around. Time for you to get off the property!!

  17. Des Moines may not be paradise, but it’s hard to imagine its crime rate approaching that of a big city. The secondary market doesn’t benefit everyone. It specifically benefits senior FAs who take the trips, with no intention of going on them, and injures those who would otherwise receive that assignment, all while generating hostility and distrust between low- and high-seniority members. Whether the party that spent a couple hundred bucks particularly benefits is questionable. That’s probably why both management and union don’t like it. It’s good for a small number of employees at the expense of everyone else.

  18. So if I decide I don’t want to go to work today because I’ve got a big project to finish, or several meetings to attend – then call in sick or say to my boss I’m don’t feel like finishing the project or attending my meetings – my boss will tell me I have two choices – come to work and do your job or resign immediately and we’ll find someone to replace you! They knew when they signed up for the job that they’d be going to “exciting and exotic places around the world,” yet they want to stay home and collect extra money so they can watch TV all day and work when they feel like it. Pathetic! Do your damn job!

  19. Here we go, again with the anti union rant. Why, dear goodness, why?

    First of, the article self contradicts. If something is a right, or is in contract, the airlines can’t threaten to fire on its account. Most likely it’s great market. As such, why would you blame unions for it?

    Secondly, since when are benefits to seniority are union only. Your vacation days increase per seniority. Should I search for an union to blame now?

    Thirdly, in the same vein as above, since when is it a bad thing to give more senior employees more desirable assignments (assuming similar skills)? In the factories, more senior workers get better shifts. In the office, senior engineers get better protects. OMG should we all reevaluate our economy structure?

    At the end of the day, it’s basically a few FAs are”abusing” their privileges earned through seniority. I used scared quote because I am not sure if there is any clause in contracts forbidding that. And what’s the harm? That passengers have more eager to work FAs? The airlines are understandably annoyed (yo, money they can’t grab under their noses!), But why should we care?

    And why is this an union thing. Remind me of the whole “union causes bad customer service” line. East Asian airlines also have unions, but their services are excellent. Why?

  20. Some just can’t accept the legitimacy of employee unions no matter that we are 85 years beyond setting public policy favoring this as the means of industrial relations. Since most of them are also still fighting to roll back Social Security, Medicare, pensions, etc., I simply laugh at their naive comments and frustrated whining and hope never to interact with them in person.

  21. Nosey Parker, what low rent airline do you work for for only $50 an hour? Those AA flight attendants are making $68 plus almost $8 an hour for purser, or $2 for galley, and $3 for IPD no matter what.

  22. Obviously, you are married to someone in the company so let s hope they don t get fired for half the things you write from gossip. I resent you making discriminatory remarks about age and longevity that is wrong especially with with is happening now. i know a lot of the newer FA s that are on there phone wearing headset s run when there s a emergency. Like any Job knowledge and experience is everything. Please quit insulting seniority I mean after all That senior person may save your life or the whole dame plane

  23. PBS is a contractual matter. If APFA and AA wants to address this issue, both parties should sit down and negotiate a new, better improved contract and revamp the PBS flawed system. It is a witch-hunt process. People have been falsely accused of these allegation without enough proper and solid proof, resulting in getting punished by management. Now…that’s not fair. Going after the wrong employees is Harrasment and a breach of contractual rights! Let that sink in.

  24. The Points Guy wins again! Making a blog post about issues he really doesn’t know about let alone learning the truth about and getting good people fighting with one another for no real purposeful reason? Pride?

  25. It’s so funny that the comment is filled with old and bitter men arguing about something that has nothing to do with them. All of us flight attendants are laughing at you guys all the way to Paris. Bob thinking that a flight attendant’s job isn’t safety related— when you have a heart attack I’ll be sure to get you a Diet Coke. ❤️

  26. The merger with AA and USAirways was a total mess, leaving AA in the caos that we are living today. The system of USAIRWAYS is broken and will bring AA Airlines down. Thank you for bringing this subject up because the new AA is doing NOTHING to fix the issues.

  27. Wow,
    I can’t believe some of these nasty comments in regards to seniority in the airline industry. Shame on all of you and this author who truly doesn’t have a clue about unions and seniority. At my airline you can’t drop you’re entire schedule for the month and most junior flight attendants are thrilled when senior flight attendants drop their international trips. Come walk a mile in my shoes after 33 years and then you should talk. I started at the bottom and we didn’t even have international flying so I was more than happy to hold what my seniority allowed. Shame on you!!

  28. This is my reply to William commenting on the “Sky Hags” who squat on the DFW-HKG trips. Well William, I’m one of those “Sky Hags” and I had to patiently wait to be senior enough to fly the more desirable trips. I flew less than desirable trips for several years as I knew that the system is seniority based. And yes, junior flight attendants can get ahead, they just have to wait like I did. I was on reserve for 24 years and never complained because I knew I had to wait due to seniority issues and 10 years later I am back on reserve. It’s unfortunate but it’s the reality of the airlines.

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