American Airlines Flight Attendants Union Wants New Contract To Benefit Senior Crew, Hurt New Hires

American Airlines flight attendants have taken the first step towards a strike in requesting a federal mediator to assist in negotiations that have dragged on for years.

At the same time, the union has updated its members on the status of contract discussions. Specifically, they’ve outlined where things are on flight attendant scheduling and working reserve (qualify of life issues).

There are a couple of interesting developments, where the union feels it is making progress:

  • New hires are expected to start off on ‘straight reserve’ rather than getting firm flying schedules, in order to reduce the number of existing flight attendants who have to work reserve. Different schedules and work rules for new hires versus existing crew is, essentially, advocating for ‘B scales’.

    Flight attendants hate being scheduled for reserve. I understand that union leadership even supported American bringing back its attendance ‘points system’ in fall 2021, which penalizes employees for calling in sick, because they feared that high sick rates would mean that the company scheduled more crew to work reserve as a backup.

  • Senior flight attendants have been known to schedule desirable trips and then ‘sell’ those duty assignments to less senior crew. The group doing this has been known as ‘the cartel’. The airline ahs tried to crack down on this, by reducing flexibility of trip trades. While saying they recognize this as ‘a problem’ the union is pushing back on limiting trip trades as a solution.

What’s so often missed from the ‘union versus management’ narrative is that a union’s position is so often about privileging one group of employees over another (‘worker versus worker’ more or as much as ‘worker versus management’).

For instance while Delta Air Lines, which is non-union, made an industry first move to start paying flight attendants for time spent boarding aircraft (union contracts generally pay a higher rate for flying time but don’t calculate time boarding), people miss that flight attendants aren’t paid for boarding because unions negotiate this. And the reason unions prefer higher pay rates rather than boarding pay is because this benefits senior crew – who operate fewer, but longer flights – at the expense of junior crew who fly short domestic hopes with more boarding time.

So it’s not at all surprising that the bargaining position of the American Airlines flight attendants union would be to benefit senior crew (reducing reserve time by imposing more reserve on new hires, and give more trip trade flexibility to senior crew some of whom sell their trips to junior crew).

Pay issues are usually taken up last because developments at other airlines in the interim will affect bargaining here.

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. As it pertains to reserve, most if not all airlines subject junior flight attendants to reserve. It’s not exclusive to AA. I fly for United and they have straight reserve for the first 5 years then an A/B rotation, one month on, one month off then lineholder. It’s grueling but I paid my dues and finally have been able to be a lineholder for the past 10 months.

  2. Unions are composed of people that gain control for the benefit of the select few relative to the masses and that is no different than what happens in democracies.
    Boarding pay will be the biggest issue that unions will have to deal w/ because Delta broke the industry paradigm. Airlines that fly lots of domestic flights such as American and Southwest need it for their FAs – and the need for the company is because having flight attendants paid for boarding means the company has more control over being on-time (FA boarding is not the only reason but is a key one). Remember that AA is flying a lot less international and more domestic flying so boarding pay has more benefit to AA FAs than it did in the past.
    If American’s flight attendant union comes away w/o boarding pay, there is very likely to be a housecleaning of the union by AA FAs not unlike what happened w/ UA’s pilots.

  3. Unions consistently screw newer workers, but this actually benefits them in two ways. As long as they benefit 60% of workers at the expense of the 40%, they don’t risk a leadership change. Perhaps even more beneficial is the fact that by screwing over new employees, they can continue to use them as an example in the PR around negotiation. Teachers’ unions have used this trick for years. They run endless PR stories about how poorly paid entry level teachers are (which while true, is a direct result of contracts that the unions themselves negotiated) while senior teachers in many places enjoy comfortable salaries with fantastic benefits. This is just another in a long list of why unions are (usually) bad for business, bad for consumers, bad for workers (except for bad workers), and bad for the economy.

  4. For the most part, new hire/junior flight attendants at AA are always given straight reserve until they can hold a line. The reserve days are in their schedule to allow for days off/vacation etc.

  5. AA should insist on paying FAs for boarding time. Anything less just allows the unions and the media to beat up on the airline for what sounds like a very scuzzy management trick. Optics mean a lot in the modern world.

  6. I don’t get the AA flight attendant position. Screw over the newest of crew members for the sake of the oldest. It’s the older/senior FAs that are never & will never be ready for any significant change. Whatever happened to the customer in all this?


  8. Of course it does. That’s what unions do. They protect the worst workers at the expense of everyone. People think conservatives don’t want people paid more. That’s not true. We love to see wage increases for actual citizens we approve of being citizens. We want Amazon factory workers to get paid more and etc. More money paid in the private sector lifts everyone. The problem is unions don’t just get wage increases but get egregious contracts that protect bad apples and prevent airlines from running efficiently and effectively. A Flight attendant should not be a life long position. The majority of people who have seniority status are bad apples who maybe were ok in the beginning and turned rotten. Airlines can’t get rid of them and passengers are stuck with flight attendants focused on non rev, doing the least amount of service, and abusing their power.

  9. @Johm – Workers making more is diametrically apposed to trickle down economics. You know, that pile of garbage started in the 80s to only benefit the “job creators.”. Conservatives don’t want to see the people at the top take even a small hit for the people that do the work. Gaslighter.

  10. Poor GenXers (most new hire flight attendants) complaining and feeling entitled to something that senior flight attendants have worked decades to get. ie: good, long haul flight/trips.
    I was a B scaler and served 5 straight years on reserve. I now have 35 years seniority and would still serve reserve in most AA bases except for New York which is why I commute there.
    Quit whining and do your job or find another one that pays less.

  11. Tell me you’re a boomer without telling me you’re a boomer… “I was abused, so you should be too!”

    April, are most new hire FAs really in their mid-forties and fifties?

  12. @John Farton….you’re wrong. I have over 40 yrs. I make a decent living and more than some of my friends in other professions. I also have traveled the World and been paid to do it. My friends save up for their yearly trips or are waiting till they’re 65 to really start traveling. I’ve done it already. You must not travel very much. I fly with some Great older flight attendants. Do they look like a 20 yr old on a stripper pole you’d like to be staring at? No. I’d love to know what you do for a living. You probably need to retire from your profession after the age of 40 since you’d be considered old there also. I guess after 40 all flight attendants need to go work in a cubicle hidden away from the public eye because they’re way too old to look at. I feel sorry for your wife and daughters if you even have them.

  13. I don’t get the sense of entitlement from junior FA’s thinking that they should get lineholder status after a brief time. When I started I was on reserve for over 5 years (AmWest) and I had no expectation of having holidays or weekends off. I accepted it for what it was and I knew if I didn’t like it I could leave. Why should a 35+ year FA have to be on reserve so a relatively new hire can hold a line?
    If rotating reserve is such a good idea then why don’t pilots have that?….because it’s a dumb idea. Forcing a senior FA to be on reserve is a pay cut if they happen to be high time flyer as your options to work additional hours are extremely limited by restrictions the company implements.

  14. The facts are incorrect. Some airlines already pay for boarding. At one airline they pay .75% of TFP or flight hour. The biggest misconception is that it’s the unions fault. Nope, the airlines have always told flight crews that they will never pay fo boarding no matter what. The airlines would shut that discussion down immediately and say dont even bring up ground pay.

  15. I’m sorry, but why do Americans keep regurgitating the blatant lie that stewardesses aren’t paid until the door closes?

    The pay for a specific flight is flight hours x compensation per flight hour = pay.

    It’s not “your hourly wage”, it’s “this flight pays xyz dollars”. There are thousands in line to do this very easy job, and if you don’t like it, quit.

    At least stop lying.

  16. @Loretta Jackson….yeah that’s it. The stewardesses have a super duper super (oh I said that already) easy job. I mean really. Have a nice day there Loretta. Enjoy my eye roll girl. I have to buzz off and ask the two crews at Southwest and United how they had a super duper easy day evacuating their plane in Havana and getting punched and stabbed in the neck from a nut today. Oh wait, I’m sure the crew on the severe turbulence flight we read about thought that was a super duper fun easy day too.

  17. Let’s ask inner city bus drivers, CVS store employees in West Coast cities, garbage collection workers etc. We all have hard jobs. Except the stewardesses, who get paid insane money for ignoring pax while being on their phone in the galley.

    Somehow, European and Asian flight attendants make it work.

    Don’t like the job, American sky waitress? Quit.

  18. NO, NO, NO!!! Not going to happen NO STRAIGHT RESERVE!!! Been AA over 20 yrs WE ARE NOT DOING STRAIGHT RESERVE!! that happened 1 time we didn’t look out for new hires and we got B scale NOT GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN!! This is us against management not each other!

  19. Most airlines have straight reserve. AA does not. This is a way to fix it gradually. @Kimberly is incorrect. 35 year flight attendants serve reserve for their entire careers so junior flight attendants can have their rotating reserve. This has to stop!

  20. @Lorretta Jackson. Yes many, many people have hard jobs Loretta. I don’t believe I said they didn’t. My favorite line of yours is stewardesses getting paid insane money. Gave me a good laugh. This 40 yr sky waitress signing off for tonight. Peace out.

  21. @James – per the contract: For the first twelve (12) months after initial training, a Flight Attendant shall be on straight reserve
    – If needed as a Reserve, once having completed a full year of Reserve duty, a Flight Attendant will serve Reserve on a one (1) month on/ one (1) month off Reserve rotation for a period of three (3) years;
    – If needed as a Reserve after four (4) years, the Flight Attendant will serve Reserve duty on a one (1) month on/ three (3) months off rotation;

    is there something I’m missing?

  22. I think flight attendants should work for free! They get free travel and hotels today are cheap! They will get great people if they would just do this, money is so 1940’s

  23. Just to clarify one point in your piece. Not only does Delta pay its FAs for boarding, but they also have the higher pay scale over all. They also pay their newhires for training.

  24. Gary Leff doesn’t have much credibility on anything other than points. Don’t wast your time listening to him. He is truly clueless on airline issues.

  25. Almost all of this information is incorrect. The union has said flat out that straight reserve is NOT on the table. New hires agree to a year of straight reserve and then rotate months until they are senior enough to hold off completely.

    Please get your facts correct before posting like this again

  26. Seems like Gary got some airline perks from management in exchange for an anti-union hit piece. I mean…c’mon – “What’s so often missed from the ‘union versus management’ narrative is that a union’s position is so often about privileging one group of employees over another (‘worker versus worker’ more or as much as ‘worker versus management’)” – I think this line is straight from the AA attorneys.

  27. I can care less american american airlines sucks never ever in my life i’m going to use american Airlines again sucks

  28. They choose not to give me a Boucher’s for a hotel and Mills. I am a Disable senior citizen. They left me waiting on the airfor 15 hours for my next flight. I freeze in the airport. I was wearing sandals shorts and a tent top the airport Crank the a c very hi wasn’t about to rest or sleep for fifteen hours overnight. I asked for my money back and they deny it.

  29. @AAflyer “Seems like Gary got some airline perks from management in exchange for an anti-union hit piece.” That’s funny. You think AA management *likes* me??

  30. I can’t believe the people who are saying new hires are getting a bad deal. They come into training knowing that they gradually build seniority the longer they fly. This is how it works. Nobody makes them stay if they don’t like it. I started out on reserve for years. I have earned my 37 years. I still love this job!

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