American Airlines Flight Attendants Unhappy With New Discipline System. That Won’t Be Good for Service

We’re just over a month away from when American Airlines will cut over to a single flight attendant scheduling system. They’ll no longer have to keep former US Airways crews separate from legacy American crews. And this will allow the airline to schedule their planes more efficiently — driven more by passenger demand than contractual obligations to different flight attendant groups.

At the same time they’re imposing a new discipline system on flight attendants to ensure they show up for work.

There have been a number of complaints over the summer about more senior flight attendants having to work reserve, and those flight attendants call out (no show) at a higher rate not wanting to be assigned undesirable last minute trips they believe their seniority shouldn’t require of them.

A new attendance policy goes into effect October 1, slipped in alongside implementation of the new single scheduling system. (HT: Gary C.)

The new attendance policy is centered on a complicated system that assigns flight attendants one or more points for various attendance infractions, such as taking more than two contractually-allowed personal days, or reporting late for work, or being a no show for a scheduled trip, or being sick during critical times for the airline. The “critical periods” include July 1 -7, Thanksgiving (Wednesday prior through Sunday after), and December 22 to January 3.

An accrual of 4 to 6 points during a rolling 12-month period would trigger a performance review. An 8-point accrual would result in a final warning and 10 points would lead to termination.

The flight attendants union has filed a formal grievance over the unilateral imposition of these new rules. One flight attendant explains their concerns,

This attendance policy, as written, is punitive, offers no human factor, and is being received by flight attendants as cruel and unusual . . . if a pipe bursts in our house, a tire goes flat or some other Act of God occurs, it’s not easy to jump on a plane for three days and forget that you are going to come home to a catastrophe.

I’m less concerned with the specific disciplinary policy for flight attendants, though I wish the performance standard wasn’t focused just on showing up.

There are great flight attendants at the airline who find it difficult to stay motivated doing their jobs when they work with colleagues who consistently shirk responsibilities without consequence.

Southwest is unionized but still manages to let go of the bottom 7/10ths of 1% of performers each year and this contributes to a culture where the vast majority of great employees are happy to be at work.

American Airlines says their big bet is to take care of their employees, and happy employees will then in turn take care of customers, and this will earn the airline a revenue premium. They believe product investments can’t be a competitive advantage because other airlines will just copy, so it has to be people that matter.

Mid-contract raises were supposed to lead to happy employees providing better service but the better service part didn’t happen.

The airline goes back and forth between making their number one priority not upsetting flight attendants and imposing new discipline news that flight attendants are upset about.

When ultimately what employees need to feel motivated is to feel they are paid fairly (which isn’t the same as generously), to like and respect their colleagues (it’s important to deal with poor performers), and to see themselves as a part of something bigger than themselves, on a mission (some goal other than ‘never lose money again’).

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. They have no supervision in their work place (the plane). What do you think is going to happen? Not much…

    I think they should have an app in which you can immediately rate the performance of your flight attendants upon landing.

  2. When staff try to manipulate the system to suit their needs problems inevitably arise.
    They may have solved one problem for themselves by not taking the assigned shifts yet they created another. Follow due process and let your reps take care of things.

  3. American Airlines has introduced one claimed miracle change after another in planes, on the ground, back office, customer-facing. Those corrections to so many problems have only given customers worse, more confused, less coordinated, nastier flying experiences.
    The management has created or worsened a bundle of problems and painted over them with a glossy surface.
    I’m selling my stock. This mess/success is entirely dependent on cutting service so planes fly less frequently, but crowded-full. One little shift in the economy and ooops there go the earnings.
    Now, FAs all seem confused, wandering and dazed every flight. They are not happy to be there and they make damned sure we are not happy to be there.

  4. Companies that do this type of progressive discipline, find they lose more good employees than bad. Because the bad ones learn how to game the system. My company had that system years ago. It cost the company dearly by losing good employees and having to hire and retrain constantly. Incentives work better for everyone involved.

  5. Wow, I had no idea Southwest cut 70% of their workforce each year. That is massive. I can’t imagine how they are so well regarded by employees with that cut-throat of a culture. Seems counter-intuitive.

  6. Run crews for mechanical construction .Almost every body wants to do a good job if you help them do it . Occasionally , very rarely , there can be one person on the crew that can make the whole crew unhappy .
    This point system sounds dreadful. Maybe it takes something like that with so many people . There should be a system for subtracting ‘bad’ points with time or ‘well done’ appraisals or something so there is hope to return to good standing .
    But sometimes people have to go to keep the rest of the crew feeling appreciated .

  7. Oh, boo-hoo.

    “…taking more than two contractually-allowed personal days, or reporting late for work, or being a no show for a scheduled trip, or being sick during critical times for the airline.”

    * Don’t sign the contact if you want more than 2 personal days… work elsewhere.
    * Showing up for work late habitually has (or should have) consequences almost everywhere.
    * Being a no-show DEFINITELY should have consequences, and in most cases, it’s termination, not “snowflake points.”
    * Being sick… most sure that is being sick without a doctor’s note.

  8. In reply to Andi.. Nope. That’s just calling out sick. I’m not sure how it works for flight attendants but in my department at AA I have to be out more than a week to even be able to bring a doctor’s note and not earn points.

  9. @Anyi
    Are you a Flight Attendant? Get your FACTS straight, because you really have NO IDEA what you are spouting off about, and ONLY THEN should you run your mouth!

  10. Maybe this needs twinning with a points system for management with board members accruing points when flights are late or cancelled, when IFE or seats or broken, when flights are overbooked and when police are called to manhandle passengers off planes. If the board clocks up 10 points in a rolling 12 month period, they are sacked.

    It would significantly improve the passenger experience.

    No? So why does the board feel it appropriate to treat flight attendants like that then?

  11. Andi: nope. That’s not how our sick policy is implemented. In order for an absence of 3+ days to accrue no points the company requires us to use Family Medical leave (if you have enough sick leave hours left. For less than 3 days you will accrue a point even with a doctor’s note which pretty much renders such a note pointless. As far as the contract goes we are working under an *imposed* contract that was actually voted down but was implemented by our former union president anyway. Too complicated to explain here how that happened.

  12. Mea culpa. Sounds like it sucks more than I gave it credit for. My condolences.

    With a union prez like that, who needs enemies? Hope things get better.

  13. @Darla Kane – care to elaborate? I assume you are a flight attendant. In your opinion, what is unreasonable about these expectations other than the formulaic approach? Do you perceive these expectations to be different than those of employees in other industries – whether teachers, doctors, or waiters?

  14. In response to Danny, can we rate you passengers, too? I think flight attendants should be able to rate passengers as well.

  15. What was not mentioned is that this sick policy comes in the wake of thousands of employees sick after new uniforms were rolled out 2 years ago.
    Nearly 5,000 flight attendants have reported respiratory, cardiovascular, skin rashes, lesions, bruising, endocrine disruption. Many of us have been hospitalized, carry EpiPen, getting taken from the airport by ambulance, gastrointestinal distress.
    If our ears block, we are grounded until they clear, we work in turbulence that injures many.
    Walk in our shoes on a bumpy flight.

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