American Airlines Flight Attendants: Can’t Afford Gas, Live Off Stealing First Class Snacks

Flight attendants at American Airlines, frustrated by lack of progress on a new contract, have gone online to commiserate and share how much they’re struggling day to day with a raise. Some don’t have money for gas to get to the airport, or to pay their bills and buy food so they make up for it pocketing snacks from the first class snack basket. Some of the stories are heart wrenching.

American Airlines Flight Attendants Haven’t Had A New Pay Deal In 9 Years

Cabin crew flight attendants have been working under an agreement that ran December 2014 through December 2019.

This was the agreement that went along with the acquisition of American Airlines by US Airways. It was the default agreement if union members didn’t vote for a negotiated contract. They didn’t, so this agreement was imposed, though American Airlines voluntarily gave higher wages than they were required to.

The contract became ‘amendable’ in December 2019, right before the pandemic, and that delayed negotiations. But those negotiations have now dragged on and flight attendants are frustrated. They asked the National Mediation Board to release them from negotiations into self-help, allowing them to strike. This would have meant a Christmas strike. But the Board, dominated by Biden Administration appointees, sent them back to the bargaining table instead.

Cabin Crew Are Sharing Their Struggles – And Confessions – Online

The airline’s flight attendants have been sharing stories online about how tough they have it under the current contract, which is now nine years old. Inflation has eroded the value of their wages around 16% since December 2019. Here are some of their stories.

Our FAAmily- Our Times of Struggle

I completed a 3-day domestic trip last month with one flight back to Dallas. We were coming in late that evening and once we arrived at the gate and deplaned, one of our New Professional Flight Attendants working the trip appeared to be in a state of distress with tears in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong? Did something happen? He shook his head for no.

He then went on to say that when he started the trip, he barely made it to the employee parking lot because his car was nearly empty, and he did not have any money for gas. He then went on to say that he had not eaten at all during the trip besides snacks from the airplane. My heart immediately sank! I asked him why he did not say anything on our layovers? I thought he was just a slam-clicker and didn’t want to socialize. He shares a place with some people that he is renting a room from in Dallas, that is an hour’s drive away from the airport. He did not want to sleep in the crew room at the airport and was too embarrassed to ask for money for food and help.

He was crying and let me tell you I cried and my heart completely broke. I told him once we got to the employee parking lot, I would follow him to the nearest gas station, and I filled up his car and then I gave him money for food for a few days.

I would like the Nation to know, THIS IS OUR REALITY here at American Airlines.

This is the HARSH REALITY of 5 years (9 years since the last contract was initiated) without a significant RAISE, mixed with outrageous crippling inflation and the sad toll that it is having on our FAAmily.

We have been waiting for a NEW CONTRACT and have been in negotiations since 2019 when our contract expired. What corporate is doing by dragging out these negotiations, is absolutely maddening and disgusting to say the least. I am so hurt and beyond that, I am ANGRY at the way this company is treating their largest workgroup and the face of their airline, the Flight Attendants.

What American Airlines is carelessly doing is having a great effect on the mental, emotional and physical health of our FAAmily; more than people know.

I want to let the public know, how cruel American Airlines is and that something needs to be done NOW to stop their blunt mistreatment to their Flight Attendants.

Flight Attendants sleeping out of their cars, having to go find 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet and applying for government assistance is an outrage. None of these things should be happening. Our job is not part-time. This is a FULL-TIME JOB. This is modern day employee slavery.

We are a FAAmily of 28,000 Flight Attendants.

FA’s sleeping out of their cars, having to go find 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet and applying for government assistance is an outrage…Our job is not part-time. This is a FULL-TIME JOB.

If it weren’t for my husband’s second income, I would not be able to survive. The fact that I’ve been at this job for almost 8 years and I’m still struggling is so ridiculous. I feel so bad for these new hires! it’s unlivable wages!!

I’m a year and a half in. I’m 50 years old and can’t afford to live on my own. I rent a room with wonderful people. I’m truly grateful. But I work 3 jobs just to pay my bills. I struggle and I should not struggle at this time in my life. ..We deserve a worthy contract to be paid for our worth. I’m tired of working multiple jobs just to live. I would have to work 5 jobs to live on my own. I don’t have a husband…I have barely been able to buy anything for Christmas…just a little present for my kids and my parents and it’s not much.

I flew with a newbie that looked so tired and hungry. Literally. She had holes in her shoes. She was working another job along with being an FA and told me she has to pick between paying her bills and food. I fed her every leg I could and the crew shared food with her. SO MANY FA’s are STRUGGLING. A couple dollars to their name after they pay bills. Selling their cars, moving in with parents etc.

I had to call out sick on reserve on month because I didn’t have money for gas and toll to get ot the airport or to get any groceries to make food for the trip. Snacking from the first class basket has helped, but only does so much.

Working As A Flight Attendant Can Be Rough

Working as a flight attendant can be a rough life. Here are 9 reasons why, 8 of which aren’t even the pay.

  • Currently American Airlines flight attendant pay ranges from $30.35 in the first year, $54.75 after 10 years, and tops out at $68.25 after 13 years.
  • APFA wants $41 – $92 per hour.

There’s no question that it’s tough to live on $30,000 a year at the start. In inflation-adjusted terms that’s what the $21,000 I made right out of school is worth today. It’s fine if you’re not trying to support a family, but there’s not a lot of space for luxuries. Many flight attendants work a second job.

If you live somewhere other than where you’re based, things are tougher. You need to chip in for a shared “crash pad” so that you’re available at your ‘base’ city when you’re scheduled to work, especially when you’re on reserve.

But It’s Not ‘Modern Slavery’

Let’s dispense with the notion that this is ‘modern day slavery.’ Working as a flight attendant for American Airlines is 100% voluntary. It’s not even indentured servitude, crewmembers can leave whenever they wish.

Any ‘lock-in’ effect in the job is the result of union-led seniority. A flight attendant can’t just go get a job as cabin crew at another U.S. airline without taking a pay cut, since they’d start at the bottom of the seniority list.

Crewmembers take the job knowing what the pay scale is, and can leave for other work. A flight attendant job at a U.S. commercial airline will never not be tough financially (as many jobs are tough financially). One binding constraint is that the value of the wage can’t exceed the value of marginal product.

  • Knowing what the pay scale is, I’m not sure why someone is surprised by what they’re making eight years in

  • Or why doing the same tasks at the same job will mean materially more money in the future

Much of the allure of becoming a flight attendant is seeing the world, not high wages, though for some it’s better pay than they’d get elsewhere. But the overall pay from the job isn’t likely to materially change.

This Won’t Suddenly Become Lucrative Work

The main value add to their employer is that they satisfy the 1:50 regulatory requirement, that an airline can’t fly without at least 1 flight attendant per 50 seats on their aircraft. That’s not true everywhere! Service can drive a revenue premium, but that’s not how American Airlines is set up.

And there are long lines of people interested in becoming flight attendants, even at these wages. Airlines frequently say they’re more selective than Harvard when it comes to getting into a training class (though I wonder how good a job most airlines do at the selecting piece).

The Best Bet For Improved Pay Is Realistic Expectations

I wonder if flight attendants realize that their employer has offered them a contract that would equal top pay in the industry already?

Every day that negotiations drag on is costing them money, since they won’t get a pilot deal with an up front bonus equal to all the back pay they would have earned as if whatever final deal they reach were effective the day their contract had become amendable. (The longer a deal takes, the more money the airline saves.)

With flight attendant union officer campaigns in full swing, their leadership cannot appear to be soft on the company and cut a deal for less than members have been told all along to expect.

And American Airlines, the financially weakest of the large U.S. airlines, isn’t in a position to pay more than peers.

A Path Towards Better Pay At American Airlines

There are basically two ways to get paid more as a union worker at American Airlines. One is to wait until other airlines pay more, and engage in pattern bargaining. That’s more or less what happened for pilots. And the American Airlines union could wait to see what kind of deal United flight attendants get. But they’d be delaying any raise in the interim, and improvements are likely to be marginal.

The only way to actually transform the pay structure is to deliver more value to the company. A starting place is to ask why American Airlines is financially weakest? They have high costs and low revenue. Unlike Delta, people don’t pay a premium to fly their product. The airline needs to be better.

For years American kept saying if they could become reliable that would solve everything. But their reliability has improved and their financial performance hasn’t. Reliability is table stakes, necessary but not sufficient.

American actually should pay flight attendants more but they should get something in return. It shouldn’t be more pay for the same people to do so the same (or less) work. They should insist on accountability in executing service standards, and those standards should be higher than they are today, so that customers enjoy the product more and are more willing to pay a premium to get that product over others.

That’s how flight attendants can create more value, earn more money for the company, and justify higher wages.

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. Jenny – then quit. Businesses change. You don’t have a right for it to remain what it was 90 years ago when you started (because you sound like one of the ugly old ones that couldn’t rescue a wet paper bag if needed).

  2. Flight attendants are an indispensable component to the success of the airline and just underneath the pilots. They are there for the safety of the public. If American can afford to pay the “C” suite executives millions of dollars per year, then they can afford to pay their flight attendants a decent living wage. I would wager that if the airline actually showed that they cared for their cabin crews via a morale boost in the form of a pay raise, they would see the effects in the form of less days calling in sick, more effort devoted to improved customer service and greater efficiencies. Management really does cut their noses off to spite their faces. The old saying that “You get what you pay for!” still rings true.

  3. Yep not a high paying job at all they used to do side work and not need paychecks lol but now they have to live on whatever airlines feel like paying them .. and they should get hazard duty pay cause non of them are guaranteed they coming home each day and someone should make airlines pay Hazzard duty pay just like people get that work on buildings above, 3 stories not right .. yes should tip. Them or maybe put in self Stewart machines lol .. they are the backbone of the airlines .. take care of them american airlines before ya don’t have any ..

  4. The airline industry is no different than other job right now. Everyone is hurting. The high cost of living is taking its toll on everyone. Flight attendants are not the only employees sleeping in cars, homeless and not able to afford groceries. Just remember this when you head to the polls.

  5. Van – yes, flight attendants are often under pilots. Maybe the pilots could leave a twenty on the dresser?

  6. Eric Wayne – illiterate hillbilly much? Hazard pay? GFYS. Tip? Sorry, thought you were arguing they were professional?

    They’re in flight waitresses. Talking coke machines as was mentioned elsewhere.

  7. The get paid if they work. Sometimes they dont get 40 hrs. And to get a decent monthly pay they need to work extra hours like having 2 jobs. Probably all airlines flight attendants take snacks, drinks, first class goodies.

  8. How many of you voted for Biden? You can thank him for the massive inflation.
    Government is paying billions in feeding/housing the constant flood of immigrants and it’s own taxpayers cannot survive. Wake up and stop voting for democrats. ( although there are now probably enough illegal freeloaders that will be allowed to vote for them!

  9. I’m a flight attendant that works for air Wisconsin and we fly under America airlines and I’ve been homeless since I started working for the company April 2023.
    They made me move to Wisconsin from Texas and left me out here once I got hurt on the job… Only living on workers comp. If it wasn’t for my kids I really feel that I wouldn’t be alive.
    Becoming a flight attendant was a dream of mine and at the age of 55 I was able to live my dream job, so I thought. This is a field that give the pilots all the benefits, all the bonuses and all the money, they want flight attendants to look beautiful and cater to the passengers and keep a smile on our face but they are not the ones that put the smile on our face. Our union representative is two buddy buddy with companies management to get any thing done for us at Air Wisconsin

  10. That’s what you get with a union. When will you guys learn. Delta is non-union and has the best combo of pay and benefits. Raises almost every year.

  11. Why does everyone complain about a job they signed up for? Go get a different job that pays what you want.

  12. The bottom line is AA F/A Union wants your union dues then they do nothing to bargain for more pay! It’s an awful representation! My ex and my daughter both work for AA. Weak union representation!

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