American Airlines Promises Flight Attendants A Free Bowl Of Chili If They Don’t Picket Next Week

On January 24th, American Airlines flight attendants will be conducting ‘informational picketing’ at the airline’s hubs and also in Boston and San Francisco. They’re unhappy with the time it’s taken to get a new contract, and that American Airlines flat out rejects many of the changes to work rules their union proposes.

American, for its part, has been telling cabin crew that on the same day as the picketing they’ll be serving free chili inside the airport which flight attendants have taken to mean they can have chili if they don’t show up to protest.

In fairness, though, the chili service starts before the picketing. Flight attendants will only be outside from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. local time at each airport. That doesn’t show much dedication, which perhaps is why some fear they can be peeled off with chili.

One flight attendant asks whether there will be corn bread as well? It seems to me that chili is pretty cheap, that maybe they could tempt flight attendants with a salad and dessert course too? Plus that would take longer to eat and make free food more of a tradeoff with showing up at the union event. Oddly the union appears to be accepting non-employees to show up at their picketing, too. The optional pre-registration form asks whether the person is an employee or not, and if not what their job is.

American Airlines flight attendants have a generally weak union. Sara Nelson’s larger Association of Flight Attendants has eyed coming in and taking over. AFA-CWA even sent masks to legacy US Airways flight attendants during the pandemic, telling me they still consider those crewmembers to be members of their union. It’s no wonder that they aren’t seeing the concessions they’re after from American Airlines in contract negotiations.

The complaints they highlight:

  • More work inflight than ever before. American’s flight attendants resisted bringing back service into the cabin. For the airline’s widebody aircraft, and cross country premium Airbus A321Ts, American actually reduced staffing levels during the pandemic and hasn’t brought those levels back to they were even as they’ve brought back service.

  • Not enough flight attendants means brutal schedules. While American is hiring flight attendants, they shed staff during the pandemic (even though $10 billion in direct taxpayer cash to the airline was supposed to mean keeping everyone employed). Though flight schedules are nearly back to full 2019 levels, staffing is not. (Fewer union members, and by the way flight attendants are behind in their union dues.) As a result they face longer duty days and less rest.

  • Too much time without a pay increase. Their contract was up for renegotiation before the pandemic. The pandemic delayed it, and the union hasn’t had significant leverage. The longer the airline goes without a new contract, the lower its costs.

Ultimately they aren’t in a strong bargaining position, though any contract will be an improvement. The union claims picketing will ‘turn up the heat’ and it will generate some attention, that attention will dissipate, and at the end of the day they’re not nearly in the bargaining position of pilots or even of mechanics (who disrupted the airline’s 2019 summer with work slowdowns). American seems to agree, since they’re only willing to spring for chili.

In contrast, United Airlines CEO (and former American President) Scott Kirby went down to meet with his airline’s pilots when they were picketing. Don’t except American’s CEO Robert Isom to walk down to an unscripted meet with flight attendants.

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. in other industry news, Southwest pilots just agreed to take a strike authorization vote which, they say, is a first for LUV.

    And nearly all of the industry except for a few smaller groups have not seen pay raises since the pandemic started which is why Delta’s completion of a contract with its union is a big deal for the industry. A few smaller players have agreed on new contracts but Delta is the first big airline to negotiate a contract – and it offers rich pay raises – will set the standard for what the big 4 have to pay all of their labor groups.

    DAL’s pilot contract is a big reason why LUV’s pilots and AAL’s FAs want to see some action.

    AA’s pilots shot down a previous company proposal that was slightly better than UA’s pilot proposal – which was valued at half per year of what DAL is offering its pilots.

    Many of DL’s non-union employees (the majority of its workforce) got pay raises during the pandemic and Delta also added boarding pay, something other US airline FA unions are certainly going to expect.

    2023 could be a nasty year for airline labor relations unless some airlines kick up the pace of settling contracts.

  2. Hmm .. will the chili be served before the picket? If so, those 2 hours outside without toilets may feel like an eternity.

  3. @Amapas – read the sentence: “at the airline’s hubs and also in Boston and San Francisco.”

  4. Perhaps AA is using this cheap tactic to also punish passengers. FAs load up on free chili then go work their flights walking the aisles of the plane. What could go wrong?

  5. @Rjb 80 hours of *flight* time. The time flight attendants spend working (including boarding, deplaning, and delays) is not paid, and therein lies the problem. AA is using and abusing its employees and getting free labor.

  6. This is extremely cheap, they probably spent more on that invitational poster than on food itself. They don’t even care to pretend they are sincere anymore, corporate only doing that because some top brass ordered them – you know, show them something but do not splurge, no no no, no way. I’m old enough to remember the times when nobody would go to work for company that treat their employees like that. I wonder what changed

  7. Oh yes, that would get me to not picket or ask for more money or benefits… A one time free bowl of chili that likely came straight from a can.

  8. Kirby did come down to talk to the pilots after years of not giving them a contact.

    Kirby is a joke and he is doing the same thing you United Frontline employees while he rakes in millions every year.

    He is cutting job security, pay, and not negotiating a few contract. Why?

    Because the longer it takes, the more money he makes.

    Kirby only cares about himself.

  9. I agree the flight attendants union need stronger leadership. John Samulsen (AA mechanics union president) got his members a fair contract after many delayed and cancelled flights. In the “old days” companies would settle union contracts before the expiration not years later.

  10. @Ice – There was an agreement on a contract! Union leadership had endorsed it! Now, they saw other airline pilot deals developing that looked better so they went back to the table. But you can’t knock Kirby for that.

  11. Gary,
    if Scott Kirby and the union leadership failed to understand what the line pilots wanted.
    And given that SK said a year ago that UA Next was dependent on getting a union contract with his pilots – which he did not do.
    Now that Delta pilots are voting on a contract which is 2X as rich per year as United’s failed contract and WN pilots are taking a strike authorization vote, UA needs to get its pilots and FAs the money they are looking for and DL, AS and B6 have managed to do.

  12. @Tim Dunn – that’s unfair. Scott Kirby got a deal with the pilots union. Union leadership failed to understand what line pilots wanted, in part because the ground shifted beneath them, you can’t lay that on Kirby.

  13. Does anyone in the general public feel like pilots and flight attendants are underpaid and overworked?
    Gate agents and customer service reps – yes.
    Not sure the general public will have much compassion for pilots working 1 week a month for 300k a year when the plane basically flies itself and flight attendants sitting in the back of the plane on their phone for 4hr flights.

  14. Gary,

    FYI, it’s SOP to invite non-union members to join in a picket. When my unit was locked out, we had many other union and non-union supporters join us. The idea is to show management that people are broadly against their actions. It was nice having mechanics, teamsters, and other unions help us out. One time, management called the police on us and, when they showed up at our picket, they said, “We’re with you” and shook our union leaders’ hands. That was a fun day.

  15. Gary, I hope at least one FA eats the Chili and then does a crop dusting as they walk past you

  16. Sadly, on the onions part, yes I said onion cause they stink. Their attempts will continue to fail until they meet the expectations of the younger members, the newer generations are not going to tolerate the shenanigans of unions that do not produce results in timely fashion and still expect people to pay monthly. The unions of yesteryear’s are long gone. The days when they actually did something for their members, now it is all about dues with little results blaming every failure on the company.
    A union is only as good as the members they have working within them. They love to keep everyone divided and distracted yet as FA’s we have to continue to pay them again with no results. If the union really cared about it’s working conditions they would have raised the pay along time ago. But yet they will continue to invite you to their annual *** convention or ski trip that our dues paid for but still take 5-9 years or more to negotiate a contract or accomplish only one thing that was being negotiated . We shouldn’t have to pay them if they can’t produce results. Most of the younger generation would be ok with just taking their chances without one. Airline unions aren’t what they used to be. Outdated and antiquated. Out of touch. Make things happen or go away please.

  17. I stand behind these hard working Pilots and FAs ..don’t work hard? Plane flies itself?
    What kind of BS is that?
    Did u go thru training?
    Do u have to sleep in crash pads?
    Did u have Debt over 100k for college/flight school?

  18. Gary,
    Scott Kirby was adamant that he would get the first big 4 pilot contract and it would be industry-leading.
    That did not happen so he failed at what he set out to do.

    The union leadership was cleaned out for the ineptitude – but no accountability for Scott Kirby not meeting the goal he set out to do.

  19. @Tim Dunn – you’re changing the standard and the critique here. He got a deal done with union leadership, and he got that deal done first.

    That’s relevant as a response to this claim by @Ice,

    “Kirby did come down to talk to the pilots after years of not giving them a contact. …He is cutting job security, pay, and not negotiating a few contract.”

    It’s not exactly Kirby that has been the key impediment to a contract – he agreed to one! (He also is not ‘cutting pay’ for pilots and it is false to say United hasn’t been negotiating a contract.)

    I’m certainly critical of Kirby over many things, but this critique simply is neither fair nor factual.

  20. AA should have done more for it’s FA s . Many FAs are so sick of no raise and we hate chili. AA management should prepare for lots of call offs soon unless the proper pay raises are there. APFA union is shady and corrupt too. AFA could come I and take over very easily .

  21. AA s headquarters in Dfw is a reflection of the corporate culture. Good old Texas boys who make chili to try to keep hard working FAS down. Come on gals call off sick
    And still protest as well. .

  22. Don’t want any chili we want a raise like we’ve been due the past three years . Show us the money not the sexist counter culture in Dfw.

  23. The chili event is for ALL employees of AA at the PHL airport– not just for the flight attendants. Perhaps the employees who work outside in the cold will appreciate it most. The date of the event was set before the union set the date for the picketing. I’m bringing my own cornbread.

  24. Nice headline Gary…the axe grinding continues, you are so butt-hurt by AA that you felt compelled to take a free, voluntary, all-day “Celebrate and Say Thanks” event, which happens to include chili apparently, and craft the ever so deceptive headline “American Airlines Promises Flight Attendants a Free Bowl of Chili If They Don’t Picket Next Week”. A headline that is immediately contradicted just a few sentences later with “American, for its part, has been telling cabin crew that on the same day as the picketing they’ll be serving free chili inside the airport which flight attendants have taken to mean they can have chili if they don’t show up to protest”.

    So which is it Gary? Did AA actually/officially promise “Flight Attendants a Free Bowl of Chili If They Don’t Picket Next Week”…or, as you wrote, the FA’s have “taken the [free food at an employee appreciation day] to mean they have chili if they don’t show up to protest”?

    Headlines, waistline, hairline…you seem to have a challenge with all three at times.

  25. Most airline management has historically looked at Flight Attendants as no more than waiters and waitresses. And many pilots still do as well. They never give any thought.. that many times the F/A is a first responder…a sort of peace officer on board…a baby sitter for infants AND adults…a rep of the company, that customers spend the most time inter acting with…..and so much more.

  26. Good luck to the AA flight attendants. I’m a flight attendant for Delta and don’t want a union cause of all this drama between management and the work group. We just received 5% profit sharing. Also, we are the only airline to get boarding pay. I hope the AA flight attendants will get a good contract soon!

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