At the end of November I wrote about American adding flight attendants to Airbus A330 Europe flights from Philadelphia not because they’re required to, or to provide more service, but just so more flight attendants can go to Europe.
I also wrote that they were dropping a flight attendant from their Boeing 777-200s in March arguing that the ratio of flight attendants to economy passengers would be the same as before the retrofit product (dropping first class, adding premium economy).
American has more Boeing 777-200s than any other widebody aircraft, and they’re treating premium economy on that plane as economy from a service standpoint even though they’re marketing it as a premium product.
At a Crew News session in Dallas on Monday American Airlines President Robert Isom and Jill Surdek, American’s Vice President – Flight Service, explained the decision to drop a flight attendant from the Boeing 777-200s and add one to their Boeing 787-9s.
A Dallas Fort-Worth-based flight attendant asked Isom,
Reduced staffing on the 777-200 is a major concern, it’s already a hard service, you’ve added the premium economy which in essence a business class modified plus the front and it’s going to take a lot longer to do the service.
Reducing it by one when we should have kept the 11 flight attendants there and increased on the 787 like on Incheon, increased the staffing on those, it’s a difficult service whether it be the noodle service on Incheon or the regular service on Tokyo Narita and China so we’re just concerned with the staffing levels..the reasoning behind that when we need those flight attendants on the trips.
Isom responded, “When we take a look at our flight attendant staff it’s done with the mindset of we have a product that we have to deliver and certainly there are the FAA required minimums as well and we want to do best for the company overall, not too many not to few.”
It’s the goldilocks approach to onboard staffing.
You take a look at moving the number of seats for sale on the 737s and going from 150 up [to 172 since US Airways management took over the airline] and the requirement of additional flight attendants there, you take a look at this past year when we made adjustments to [Airbus A]330 staffing out of Philadelphia, not because of service but to make sure we’re using the available staff that we have.
When you take a look at the widebody product, 777-200s when we took a look at reconfigurations the idea was always that we got to a competitive staffing level and on the 777-200s when you take a look at that staffing level it’s consistent with what you see on a BA and a JAL and other international airlines and there may be some that alter that in one direction or the other but we thought that was fairly competitive in the product we’re offering especially not having first class anymore, it drove studies in how best to deliver that service.
We think we’re in the right direction there but you know through feedback on the 787-9s and people saying hey we just can’t do things there we took it in the other direction on that front.
Overall my hope is we get the right level, it’s something we always take a look at. Service levels will change in the future and we’ve got to be mindful of that.
American Boeing 787-9 Premium Economy
Jill Surdek expanded on this point.
Staffing was originally on the 777-200 was developed based on a 3 class model, and we went through the retrofit, it was completed several months ago, and that’s when the review of the staffing took place. And when you go from having 3 flight attendants in first class and look at how you reallocate the work load and we did do very competitive looked at ratios across the industry, we did make those adjustments, our staffing by cabin is in line on average with every other airline that’s flying that same fleet type. So that changes going in with the March bid month. With the February bid month we did add one additional head with the 787-9.
None of that changes the point that since the beginning of this month there is one fewer flight attendant on Boeing 777-200s doing the same work as last month, and that they justify this by treating premium economy the same as economy when it isn’t supposed to be.
Comparing what American Airlines flight attendants are supposed to accomplish with what Japan Airlines flight attendants accomplish is silly, of course. American can barely get its flight attendants to serve predeparture beverages in domestic first class.