American Airlines Threatens To Fire Flight Attendants Who Leave Their Base While On Reserve

American Airlines sent out a memo to cabin crew this week threatening to terminate them if they aren’t near the airport when called to work a flight while on reserve. The airline is correct on the contract language and requirements, but managed to offend many of their crew who felt blamed for the airline’s operational problems over the last several days.

We’ve talked before about the crucial role reserves play in helping keep the operation running smoothly. We depend on reserves when there’s bad weather and other factors that prevent lineholders from working their scheduled assignments. Unfortunately we continue to see some troubling trends that negatively impact running a reliable operation.

When you are on reserve, it boils down to this:

  • Your are obligated to be positioned within two hours of your base airport (three hours for co-terminal bases) for the duration of your RAP (reserve availability period) unless Crew Scheduling releases you.

  • If you are not positioned as described above for the duration of your RAP, you may be considered “out of base.” This may lead to the termination of your employment.

  • You are required to report a known illness/injury the day prior to ROTA processing or as soon as you know you will not be available. You should not wait for Crew Scheduling to assign you a trip before calling out sick.

When flight attendants are on reserve they may never get called to work, but they’ll get paid. Some of them – disproportionately an issue with American’s younger crew, I understand – will roll the dice and guess they won’t be called in. So they stay home in the city they live in, rather than the one they’re based at for work (where they may have a shared crash pad). Then when they’re called for duty they aren’t available, and may say they’re sick.

However this isn’t close to one of the top challenges American has faced with operational reliability yet gets sent out right after an operational meltdown. Several flight attendants who felt unfairly blamed for the airline’s problems sent this to me in frustration. The American Airlines flight attendants union, APFA, would be crying foul if they weren’t so weak (recall they did not even object when American furloughed more flight attendants than any other airline).

In order to reduce absences, and since they’re no longer encouraging flight attendants to work during Covid waves using extra pay, they’ve also ended pandemic leaves for all employees other than pilots, and those based in California and Philadelphia where it’s legally required. Crew are told to use paid sick time (which accrues attendance points), “other banks of time, or apply for either a medical leave of absence or a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Last year American Airlines told flight attendants working reserve to skip meals in order to get to their new flights faster.

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 the fine print Will Smith will come in and Finish the job reprimanding FAs
    if they don’t live up to Americans contractual obligations

  2. No problem w this and glad AA sent it out. Frankly I couldn’t care less if FAs are offended. They are paid to be on reserve and should therefore be available. Not sure why anyone would have an issue with this going out. So what if it offended a few people. We have become largely a nation of snowflakes looking to be offended which is very sad.

  3. LOL. Nice to see that the heavy-handed goon tactics of AA management haven’t changed. And they wonder why their culture is so toxic.

  4. When American Airlines wrote to all flight attendants in their May 3, 2021, Moments that Matter newsletter, “You may not have time to stop and get food, etc. on the way to the plane – particularly if you’re called at the last minute, so keep that in mind.
    Go directly to the aircraft if you are called; do not stop for food or other items on your way unless you have ample time and it will not delay you accomplishing your pre-flight duties and boarding.”

    To clarify, American Airlines is saying that you may not have time to stop to pee, poop, vomit, etc., on the way to the plane – particularly if you’re called at the last minute, so keep that in mind. We recommend you purchase and wear adult diapers at all times so our valued flight crew employees can go directly to the aircraft if you are called. Do not stop on your way unless you have ample time because you can always crap in your diaper, and it will not delay you from accomplishing your pre-flight duties and boarding. We apologize in advance. As a valued American Airlines flight attendant, we know it sucks to be you today when sitting on standby reserve.

  5. Wait. … “Nice to see that the heavy-handed goon tactics of AA management haven’t changed”.

    What?

    There is an expectation of employee performance.

    And there is a union which works to ensure that there is a contract in place that is relatively beneficial to the employees as balanced against the corporate goals.

    Is it heavy handed to expect an employee to fulfill the expectations of the job?

    Please, and I want to be clear: I grew up in a union family, in a union city. Contracts matter, as does employee performance.

    People who have a job on the ground can have an expectation of a relatively normal life.

    But when one takes up a career of pilot or flight attendant, the rules are different, regulated, and specific.

    If you have a ground based career and your company moves or closes, you need to make choices of taking a different career or potentially moving to get that next job.

    If there is an expectation that you are based in City X, then you need to be available, per contractual terms, in or near City X.

    If the base closes, and you still want to keep the job, you move to the other base or have a shared crash pad (as many flight attendants have done for years.)

    The economics of air travel demands tighter scheduals and available staff to ensure that planes spend all potential time in the air.

    It is not heavy handed to expect people to do what they have both agreed to and also understood historically to be part of the job.

    Because, on the other hand, if that employee wants to go to Rio for the weekend on their days off… they can.

    Like the movie says: “I know they can get the job… But can they DO the job?”

    They need to do the job.

  6. 1. Young people do not care about getting fired. Today’s youth have a myriad opportunities to earn income. Gig economy work fills the gaps between each full time position. Accelerated programs like webdev bootcamps get Joe Blow into a $100k job in a matter of months. That’s a low salary for white collar, but it still pays better than most flight attendants, even if you count hotels and meals as income.

    2. Almost every job has “reserve” or “on call” requirements whether explicit or unwritten, paid or unpaid. Almost no job is truly strictly 9 to 5 in the modern age of cell phones. Let’s say you are a graphic designer for a small company, and your boss all of a sudden lands a meeting with a prospect or investor on extremely short notice. Guess what, you are going to burn the midnight oil polishing those PowerPoint graphics. And that’s only in the realm of normal jobs.

    3. The highest paid “normal” jobs, McKinsey/biglaw/private equity, etc. where W2 income is in the millions of dollars at age 30, all involve 24/7/365 availability to drop everything at a moment’s notice for client work. There is no extra pay as it’s understood to be a condition of the high salary. But it does mean you don’t have a life at all. No true holidays because you could always be called on to work.

    Just some perspective.

  7. Just wondering…are FAs required to be on Reserve status and if so how long and how often? Also how much are they paid while on Reserve?

  8. By normal job I mean not working for yourself, and not working in some extremely specialized capacity like POTUS (remember those campaign ads — 3 a.m. phone calls)

  9. Denis Bekaert: Reserve pay is normally your hourly flight pay, if your a Senior FA your hourly wage maybe $30plus, where a Junior FA maybe $20-24. You may also be paid a per diem for each hour of reserve along with your flight pay. Bring a book and your laptop. Airports are busy and lots to watch while you wait to be “ used”…LOL.

  10. If your job is to be in base X and you are located in city Y beyond your required terms… You- the employee- are responsible for your tardiness. The airline depends on you to be available.

    GET TO THE CITY.

  11. This is your labor contract. You’re responsible for that and you get benefits because of it. Don’t like it, don’t work there

  12. “We’re desperately short staffed, but let’s send out 35 messages about all the different things we’re eager to fire you for”

    This management team is so out of touch with reality. Nobody is mad about the fact that you could be fired for being out of base, it’s the timing and the suddenly constant threats. The operation melted down and they just want someone to blame it on, so they chose the .0001% of FA’s that were out of base while on reserve.

    Brady Byrnes is brand new and is universally hated for his arrogant attitude and consistently flippant interactions with FAs.

  13. If the flight attendants suddenly don’t like being held to their terms of employment then they should seek employment elsewhere. They knew what was required of them when they took the job.

  14. Of course, the ironic part of this is that one contributing reasons for flight attendants not to be at their base when on on reserve is the airline’s inability to get them there per the airlines schedule. Scheduled for at home reserve tomorrow, then fly to your crash pad tonight or early tomorrow. But, the flights are all cancelled today, making it impossible to get to base tomorrow, which is why the line holder wasn’t able to make it either and why the reserve was required. Do they force line holders to have a real residence at their base, or do a good number of them in high cost cities also use a crash pad?

  15. How is this newsworthy? The same applies to Cabin Crew and Pilots at any airline.

  16. Frankly I don’t see what the big deal is. Aren’t most of them sleeping on the airport floor?

  17. If they don’t like it, they can quit. They add nothing to the inflight experience anyway.

  18. The FAs are paid to sit reserve. Period. Just like if anyone else doesn’t show up to work, they should expect consequences. Operational issues do not invalidate this.

  19. Typical “us versus them” mentality at American. All are uncaring and unsympathetic on both sides of the argument. American has always been a “do what we tell you and we’ll make money” company. The “we” is not the employee but the company. So how’s that workin’ out, huh? Other airlines who are more successful, more profitable and more popular use the “we” to mean both the company and the employee. The two treat each other with mutual respect and work together. Some companies are much better off as they are non-union. Because of the mutual respect, the jobs get done. For the most part the company is happy, the workers (who are recognized as the engine that drives the “happy”) are happy, the stock holders are happy and, most importantly the customers (who PAY FOR the happy) are happy. Until American’s management understands the true concept of “we”, American Airlines will always be at the bottom of the airline “food chain”.

  20. Don’t see the issue they are being paid for this. I’m sure they are told the rules in advance. Like seriously. They getting paid to just be within two hours of their base airport. Hardly a hardship.

  21. Reserves get 12 days off if you do not live in base that means you get 4 actual days off in 39 days of flying! For the fact that you are flying home 1 say off and fly back to work on another day off leaving 4 days off in 30 days! You spend ONLY 4 days a week with your family and see how that flys with your life!

  22. I went to an interview with AA years ago, and part of the overview of the (non-union) job requirements was that if you are sick with cold, flu, intestinal issues i.e diarrhea; “there are plenty of pharmacies, convenient stores and gas stations along the way to the job. You can stop and get Pepto, or
    Tylenol, to alleviate your symptoms, so there is no reason for you to call in sick.” I was floored by that statement!!

  23. A lot of spinning to create negative connotations.

    Reserve flight attendants know the rules. It’s their choice not to live at their base when they know they are subject to reserve months. To bitch about days commuting to base and home when it’s their choice to do so seems insincere.

    The notice could also be a “heads up”; if you’re on call and don’t report you are jeopardizing your employment. Obviously there is a problem with flight attendants not being within two hours of their base and “calling in sick” when caught. Otherwise a letter would not have been sent!

    This attitude toward work is on display every day at American Airlines. Half the time you might be lucky to get a refill or your meal picked up …in First Class. And expect the lights to be turned off and curtains closed. The message being “don’t bother us, we got better things to do!”

    American isn’t my first choice due to the inconsistent inflight service and the minimum effort put forth on too many of their flights.

    WH

  24. The flight attendant group does NOT have a UNION.
    APFU is not recognized as a “union” anywhere. They are “an association” and they are lousy at that!
    If APFU was kicked out and a REAL UNION brought in then many of the injustices felt by the flight attendant group may go away.
    As for being on reserve, that’s another whole can of bull*~#t. There is no other airline (probably) with a reserve system like AA has. Any airline that has flight attendants on reserve (albeit rotating) when they have 20-30+ years of seniority is…well, LOOKING FOR ISSUES!! Another fine “negotiation” by APFU
    Take a page from the DELTA playbook and you’ll get better employees!

  25. The old heads and their union were milking it long before the next generation was born. This is the result of them leading by example. Get bailouts from taxpayers everytime they were not productive. Whine when the next generation puts in the same half assed effort. Then whine when the next generation gets them an app for their next shift bid to make bidding easier and develop software that’s transparent for them to see if results were rigged, so they can file a grievance.

  26. To the person that thinks that you’re getting paid while you’re on reserve sitting around an airport- you’re not. You’re paid your monthly guarantee, with is about 70-75 hours for the month. So if you could survive on $24-$30 for 70-75 hours for the month then, okay. But you’re still in uniform at will of the airline. Also when you’re at home none of those hours go towards your guarantee. Airport standby is only paid at a fraction of your hours. ie. paid 4 of the 6 hours you’re sitting at the airport even though you’re called in 2 hours prior, spending money on gas to be there, taking time away from your home and family where you can’t drink or do anything that might get you terminated.
    It’s not all sitting around watching videos on your cell phone. That is the exception.

  27. I flew as a Flight Attendant for American 24 years.

    Reserve is a hardship.

    Unfortunately everyone on Reserve is well aware of the fact they are required to be in the assigned Base Domicile for their scheduled reserve days. Those who played “Roulette” knew clearly they were risking their job.

    Fact: crew members know they are supposed to be at their base when on reserve. It’s clear in the APFA/AA Union Contract. No excuse.

    No sympathy from me… those people are of poor character and display poor work ethic.
    American Airlines has every right to fire these people for fraud.

    If they were AWOL in the Military they would be in a Stockade/Jail.

    To think they are actually contesting the case just confirms they are misguided and lacking character.

    If you don’t like the pay or the requirements, go find a new career and stop your whining.

    Good luck with your bad attitudes when you start your new career search.

    Life is hard, being stupid makes it harder.

    Peace, out!

  28. At Mr. Peters: I’ve seen the reserve pay described on this blog as “dismal,” “pathetic,” etc. No real money numbers. You were a FA, you raked in the actual green for hanging out. Can you post actual dollar amounts for this cushy posting please? I’d like to compare for myself. Thanks!

  29. Jorge- APFA/AA contract states the wages. I don’t have a contract today. I left the Airline in 2013.

    The pay was based on a 75 hour guarantee and the pay scale progressed based on your years of service/employment. I don’t remember actual hourly rates. But maximum pay was achieved around 15-16 years. To try and explain the pay or potential to earn more or less pay is based on individual choices each Crew member decides for their personal needs.(whether they could drop or pick up more flying time to accommodate their own personal salary requirements.)

    The biggest perk in a aviation career is the flexibility to drop or pickup trips. ( Within the contracts minimum for maintenance of benefits, or maximum regulated by The FAA to prevent fatigue issues).

    This is a complex situation granted, but not being in base when you are being paid to be regardless of the pay scale is cut and dry. You are obligated to be available if you are an employee.

    Staying home because you don’t want to “hang out” in your base city during your reserve month is clearly not permitted.

  30. Mr. Peters: My curiosity is genuine.
    To be answered with
    “it’s complicated” is evasive and frankly an insult. Complicated salary systems benefit someone, usually the people writing the checks otherwise it would be clear. Sometimes the people getting the checks piggy back on that reason to say “we’re getting screwed.” That doesn’t help your cause. Just give me a yearly average typical of Jane Lifesaver/waitress…

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