During the pandemic American Airlines reduced the number of flight attendants working on Boeing 787, Boeing 777, and premium cross country Airbus A321T aircraft.
- They were looking to cut costs any way they could
- They weren’t offering much service anyway so didn’t need the crew on board
- They were still staffing with FAA legal minimum crew or above
Now that travel demand has returned, the airline is keeping these lower staffing levels. And the airline is beginning to restore inflight service. The flight attendants union complains it’s difficult to deliver the kind of service passengers expect when first class flight attendants split their duties in other cabins on Boeing 777-300ER planes, and there’s no longer a separate crewmember preparing meals and providing service in first class on the A321T.
A flight attendant asked at a Crew News question and answer session with executives this week when staffing levels would be returned no normal since service levels are coming back? And they were told that the change had nothing to do with Covid or service levels, an executive responded that “we were at a competitive disadvantage with other airlines on similar aircraft” so they reduced staffing “to be competitive.”
CEO Doug Parker chimed in to reiterate the “cost disadvantage, we had more flight attendants for those aircraft types than other airlines, they tend to fly to FAA minimums” and it was pointed out to him “plus one.” He continued,
The answer is we’re going to try to keep doing this with the same standards other airlnes were on those aircraft types. And again it wasn’t because of Covid – well, it probably was because of Covid, we had to save every dollar we could – so it highlight things like these we may not have done it in other times. But nonetheless we’re going to try to do it with this and hopefully we can.
If we find the service can’t be delivered of course we’ll make sure we’re doing what we can to deliver the service our customers expect. But other airlines seem to be able to get by with that complement level so we should be able to get by too.
In fact when United removed a flight attendant from business class on international widebodies their product suffered. The airline catered pre-plated meals so there’d be less work to do. But as United has restored service domestically they actually added a flight attendant to their Boeing 767-300s operating domestically. One flight attendant per 23 business class passengers meant they weren’t delivering the product premium passengers expected.
But the takeaway here seems to be once again (just like with single agent boarding) simply doing what other airlines do rather than what they need to do in order to deliver a quality product, and “get[ting] by.”