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.

Four 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

Last summer 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 (it has been more an issue with legacy US Airways flight attendants than legacy American Airlines crew),

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.

And since it continues into 2022, the union is again telling cabin crew not to do it.

Flight Attendants continue to voice concerns regarding illicit trip trades and drops. With the elimination of many premium trips throughout the system, the abuse has become more evident.

…These systems were not designed to encourage any type of trip brokering or to circumvent Flight Attendant seniority. …[S]ome continue to conduct transactions for trips they do not plan to fly. Some continue to share passwords to Crew Portal and Jetnet, which is a direct violation of our work and conduct rules.

…Management has made it clear that this illicit trip activity is prohibited. If you are trading or dropping trips outside of the intended means of our scheduling systems, you will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination. …We are asking you to please stop conducting these transactions immediately.

…For those of you that are frustrated with the lack of oversight accompanying this behavior and have been continuously sharing your frustration with your APFA Leadership, we hear you.

Interestingly the union is applauding those who have ratted out their colleagues to management, even though it could get union members fired. (“Many of you have exercised tremendous restraint in reporting these abuses to management because you respect and value the core tenets of unionism”).

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. If this loathsome practice is what it takes to get the grouchy hag dragons out of premium cabins on premium routes, bring it on.

  2. The trips don’t belong to the flight attendants, the senior people simply have first option. If your boss gives you a chance to do something, that something doesn’t suddenly become your possession to do with as you choose.

  3. The fair way to do it would be to keep the seniority system, but not allow anyone else to take the slot – you can’t make it, it goes back into the pile where others can grab it – by seniority. But I have a feeling someone (or many someones) high up in the union benefit from this, therefore it’s never going away.

    FWIW, this is the problem with seniority systems – when I taught briefly, the senior teachers took all the easy students to teach. The starting teachers got the dregs – in high school, that means the 9th graders in the low level classes – in some school districts, that means you’re at the worst schools with the most disinterested students. An experienced teacher would know what to do – beginners just quit. Almost half of all new teachers quit in the first five years, probably because they’re thrown in the deep end with no life preserver.

  4. This article reports on a problem, suggests the root cause of the issue, and then fails to deliver on what I ultimately want to know—what could the airline and union do to prevent the issue from happening?

    Either offer a compelling solution to the problem or just report on what’s going on. Don’t half-ass by attempting to identify the real problem and just end the article.

    One compelling solution, since Gary Leff is coming up short, is to completely remove the concept of private employee-to-employee trip trades and to keep a record of public drops and trades that can be accessed by anyone.

  5. The flight attendants have too much power and are driving business away. We took four first class trips in the last two months of the year and it was most unpleasant.

  6. As with overtime or any other opportunity, union rules would specify a pecking order based on seniority. The selling of an opportunity would be contrary to these rules. So, I’m not certain it would be fair to criticize the union itself on this issue.

  7. Scum in every occupation. Bid for a trip? Work it or drop it. Your Senior and making Good money and you cannot resist the urge to make more money, off your junior co-workers. And you are a Union Member? Awful of you.

  8. Why do some comments blame unions? It’s not union policy to sell your slot and the union wants it to stop. Sure, they have failed to stop it but that’s not even close to approving it.

  9. Officially, it’s against policy, so the union opposes it. But are they blocking any proposed reforms, like I mentioned, just putting the flight offer back in the pool if you can’t work it? Or is this a case of “We’re opposed to you doing this (wink, wink).” Do they fight for senior flight attendants who get fired for this. They could also have a policy that you only get so many skips/trades before you lose your right to bid.

    Without more info, it’s difficult to fault or clear the union – though it’s clear certain union members are at fault. Clearly there are potential solutions to the status quo, but is it the union who opposes the reforms or American who can’t implement the IT solution?

  10. There is what you employer endorses and what your employer tolerates to keep employees on the platform

    They may say they don’t support the secondary market but let’s get real this isn’t taking a penny out of the airlines pocket so basically they don’t care enough to stop it

  11. It undoubtedly impact employee morale, which does impact service, which does impact the bottom line. I don’t know about you, but everyone I know complains bitterly when some fellow employees seem to be taking advantage of their position and/or the system, union or no, and I’ve worked for both private and public employers.

  12. This happens at not just the flight attendants at AA but also other jobs within the airlines and also give you a quick example in major Fire departments.
    Example you are on the top of list to be a captain or Engineer at a dept. your on the “list” for 2 years but as a year and a half go by no one retires so looks like being at the top of the list didn’t matter. But you hear an engineer will retire in another year unless you give him some sort of incentive $$$. So let’s not think this sort of thing doesn’t happen and are shocked.what’s important is does the replacement employee show up and do a good job or not.

  13. If the senior flight attendant holds the trip due to their seniority its theirs to do with as they please. Not “sell” it but give it to whomever they wish. This will be their contractual right, negotiates between union and management. C’est la vie. If management doesn’t like it they can negotiate an alternative in the next contract, and good luck with that. Seniority rules.

  14. It’s what it is. When you become a FA you know it is an occupation based on seniority. As a senior FA you have the right to do whatever you want within the companies rules with your trips. All FAs are aware of this.

  15. There is no “property right” involved. A flight attendant is assigned a specific job (mostly based on seniority) and that flight attendant is expected to do that job. It’s contractual. People know that when they are hired. If flight attendants don’t like the contracts that their union negotiates for them *and the union membership voted to approve*, they should either get a new union or quit. Or simply grow up, realize that they are in a minority, quit trying to game the system, and do their assigned job. The article also shows some sort of ageism in assuming that more senior flight attendants are for some reason incapable of doing their assigned tasks.

  16. @Mets Fan in NC
    Yes, unions doing what unions do: protecting the interests of their members and ensuring that all members honor the contractual obligations agreed to – and voted on – by a majority of union membership.

  17. This is made out to be something awful when it is not. If I have a wedding to go to I put my trip up you put money on it because no one wants to pick up a trip for free. It has nothing to do with people with seniority trying to get over on junior people. This article is not true. It’s about not getting what you want when you bid for the things you have to do in life. People have kids etc etc.

  18. For some of the pilots at a well know Dallas based airline, this is nothing new. Junior pilots, both CA and FO would join an alliance and “park” their line trips on others lines while picking up “giveaways” or “open time”. I “retired” 14 years ago and it was happening then. Being greed hasn’t changed much, I’m confident that it still happens

  19. You insist that this is a primarily US practice yet legacy AA flight attendants had services that were paid to do this exact same thing. The only person fired as a result of company oversight into bidding practices was a LAX based legacy AA flight attendant. She was allegedly abusing her pass privileges and was only caught because of IT tracking her on the company portal.

    In the company work and conduct rules it says specifically that you may not use your seniority to acquire trips that you do not intend to fly, and you are not allowed to then give or sell those trips to others. So, the company has been sending out warnings for years but have actually done nothing. The union has a duty to all members, so they have to defend the scumbag seniority thieves as well, but this last blast from APFA seems like they are finally tired of them too.

    Everyone knows who does this, they are generally shunned in the crew lounges, on trips, on layovers. They either go by themselves or in pairs if they have managed to get another thief on the trip with them. I don’t understand wanting to fly what other’s seniority truly holds badly enough to put up with the scorn from the great majority who do the right thing. How can it be worth it to pay money to get a trip? The international premiums aren’t that much more. Now, for those few that have made it a business, buying and selling trips for many crew members, I would love to see the IRS get involved! Even at top pay scale, 6 figure income, I don’t think you could afford a Maserati and a top of the line BMW, could you? Without the side income from trip selling?

  20. It is a detachment from reality to view duties at work as ” property right”. There isn’t any duty ownership at any line of work. There are good duties and bad duties. Seniority is more often, and probably the most unbiased, determing factor on who get the better ones. It is not a “broken duty assignment system”. Airline unions negotiated the privilege to trade, pick up or drop duty assignments. It is not a right. Sounds to me, some of these people are abusing the privilege. To conclude that the abuse is a proof that the duty assignment system is flawed is way off base. It is also captious to assume that older, more senior workers are less suited for customer service roles. Propagating stereotype is something a good journalist should stay away from.

  21. Some people are forgetting a basic fact: The company is running a business. The employees are not.

  22. In previous comments, Jon asked, “Remind me again why we have unions?” Well Jon, if we didn’t have unions and labor laws brought about by unions, many companies would be hiring 12 year olds and paying them .50c an hour! Large companies, including all airlines, are very greedy and will do as little as possible with regards to pay and benefits for their workers. It is only because of unions that Flight Attendants can make a decent living. They put up with a ton of crap, out in extremely long days and deserve every penny they make.

  23. Very simple cure: trips cannot be traded.

    If one doesn’t want to fly their trip, they drop it and it goes to open time.

  24. The union is there to keep the company from preying on employees, what a shame that other union members are now taking the opportunity to prey on their more junior colleagues. Very sad that people with more experience, more tenure, and more lifetime earnings take advantage of their opposites.

    The union could step in to help solve the problem, provide its own members with an easy, anonymous way to report co-workers selling a route, or negotiate a penalty for excessive/unexplained route swapping. This sounds like lip service from the union – this has been going on for years but you’re only hearing the union shun it now because it’s become super obvious with fewer flights during the pandemic.

    The company is unquestionably injured through this practice. Clearly the more junior associate would accept the desirable route for less money, seeing as they were willing to pay someone else $200 for it, but that value accrued to the more senior flight attendant instead of AA’s shareholders or customers.

    Maybe routes should be Dutch auctioned to FAs, with pay multipliers then applied based on performance review, tenure, and route swap frequency. I doubt the idea of paying people what they are willing to work for would be acceptable for the union/it’s members.

  25. Names please unreported income means fines penalties and loss of jobs when on federal jobs

  26. @Joyce Taylor how do you not know you have a wedding coming up in the next 3-4 weeks that you need to plan around? Lots of people have kids and have to rework schedules, but they usually don’t collect a payment from junior colleagues in the process. It’s not legitimately changing schedules that is reviling, it’s the profiting from it.

  27. Hate to bust all the bubbles in here, but Southwest IS unionized and Southwest ALLOWS their flight attendants to sell trips. Worse news for all your Union haters, Southwest is ALWAYS tops in Customer Satisfaction. So clearly this is not a Union or a Pay-to-Play issue. Y’all always more worried about the little guy/gal and less so about Congress members stock trading on inside pandemic information, CEO stock buy back grift along with insane remuneration packages, and to 20% or so of you “Elites” that got your status paying for trips using your Payroll Protection Plan loan grift. Gurl bye!

  28. I belong to one of the largest employed unions in the country and have worked on both sides of the fence. Sad to say need unions as much as we don’t. There are too many people that aren’t management material. The other side of the coin, a lot of subordinates just want a check and think requesting a Shop Steward they’ll get their way. I feel like a few others in their comments, seniority should be in place if the employee doesn’t or can’t make that flight. Maybe consider awarding a few junior employees (by seniority) for their performances.

  29. Here we go again, unions protecting bad actors. At least this doesn’t have the life and death consequences of police unions protecting bad cops. We are way past the era of labor unions. People who support labor unions are against advancement based on hard work and merit. Oh yeah, our current Vice-President believes that at least 70% of the labor force should be unionized. Maybe it’s because organized labor pumps in millions (if not billions) of dollars into Democrat political campaigns every cycle.

  30. This is a problem that arises every few years. Once in a great while the airline will swoop in and catch the ringleaders. Termination is the usual punishment. A few months later it will start again and then the airline plants a stooge to catch them in the act of money changing hands. Now PayPal and even Bitcoin transactions are used and are hard to trace.. A very desirable 3 day JFK-HND-JFK can bring in $1,000 to the seller. Airline scheduling systems need to be programmed to watch for specific people who continually drop all of their flying and especially watch junior FA’s who always seem to fly very senior schedules.

  31. Reply to 1KBrad

    You can’t just simply “drop” a trip…it doesn’t go straight to open time. Someone has to actually pick up your trip; nice try. Obviously you don’t work in the industry so your comment/suggestion is unwarranted. Suck a big toe.

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