For six years I’ve written about the frustration where American Airlines would begin boarding planes prior to scheduled boarding time. That often meant showing up at the gate correctly, finding the aircraft mostly boarded, and not having any overhead bin space left.
Some agents have even been known to skip upgrading passengers who aren’t at the gate, so boarding early also has meant customers losing out on upgrades.
Gate agents do it because the earlier they start the better chance they have that the flight will push back exactly on time (and they won’t risk their stats or get yelled at for late departures). Flight attendants hate it because this means they are forced to start working earlier than they’re supposed to (and they don’t get paid extra for it).
The American Airlines flight attendants union has a grievance over boarding planes prior to scheduled departure that is pending arbitration. The case won’t be heard until the fall.
According to the union,
[W]e have seen early boarding become the norm rather than the exception. Many times, even after the boarding time has been established during the Departure Dependability Briefing, passengers are being sent down early and before Flight Attendants are ready to receive passengers. This is unacceptable.
Attempts at mediation failed because American Airlines, in the union’s words, “maintains that no language in the [flight attendant contract] prohibits them from boarding early.” They believe they can keep doing it, even though it’s bad for flight attendants and customers.
Sections 11.M. and 14.F. of the flight attendant contract (“JCBA”) details when a flight attendant needs to be on board so that American Airlines can begin passenger boarding of the aircraft. For domestic flights these times are,
- Aircraft with fewer than 165 seats board 30 minutes prior to departure
- Aircraft with 165 or more seats board 35 minutes prior to departure
Boeing 737s used to have 160 seats on them (150 prior to US Airways management taking over the airline) so they boarded 30 minutes prior to departure. Now that they added seats to the aircraft, to match the way they’re configuring Boeing 737 MAX planes, they hold 172 passengers and board 35 minutes to departure.
American’s boarding passes used to print that boarding was 30 minutes to departure even for flights where it was 35, but they’ve fixed that issue that went on for years.
This is one issue on which I hope that the flight attendants prevail.