Breakthrough In Sight: American Airlines Flight Attendant Union Talks Progress Despite Strike Threats

American Airlines flight attendants voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. They’ve asked the government’s National Mediation Board for permission to do so. Their contract became amendable in 2019 and they haven’t had a raise in five years.

Outwardly, things have looked pretty bleak. Yet, as I explained two weeks ago, the airline and its flight attendants union are now closer to a contract than ever.

  • Rhetoric is hot, and the union head confronted the airline’s CEO at a company-wide town hall following its first quarter earnings call. But the language there shifted.
  • The union’s demands are no longer quite as pie in the sky.
  • Southwest and Delta will be paying flight attendants more, and the airline is raising its economic offer for the first time since September.
  • And the union itself is better able to accept compromise now that its leadership is secure in their positions following re-election.

Flight Attendant Union Leaders Confront CEO Robert Isom At Employee Meeting, October 2023

In the airline industry, the National Mediation Board must authorize the parties to ‘self help’ following a 30-day cooling off period prior to any strike being legal. That has seemed unlikely when:

  1. There’s no ‘deadlock’ in negotiations with the airline increasing its economic offer, indeed with the parties seeming more conciliatory
  2. The Presidential election is approaching, and a majority of the board represents the sitting President seeking re-election. A strike by American Airlines would go badly for the President, which is in part why President Clinton halted a strike by American flight attendants in 1993.

Not only does a strike seem unlikely, but there’s no reason to think progress towards a deal may be coming. Aviation watchdog JonNYC notes that the parties have been engaged in more intensive negotiations in recent weeks, and will be moving to D.C. for two more weeks of bargaining.

Reading the union’s message shared by JonNYC it’s actually rather striking in how tone has shifted away from confrontation.

The flight attendants union says that they welcome more negotiations – rather than saying they are angry that the National Mediation Board demands more negotiations after 3 straight weeks in which American failed to deliver what they demand.

And they say they have “difficult bargaining” ahead and they are “focused on working through these issues” rather than demanding release from negotiations to strike.

Rhetoric has clearly shifted, and that’s a real positive. A strike is bad for everyone – though American executives will be fine, passengers can book onto other airlines, but flight attendants in marginal economic situations would fare worst. First and second year cabin crew based in Boston are today eligible for food stamps.

I’m hopeful we’ll see wage gains quickly – their 2019 pay has been significantly eroded since then by inflation. Earlier demands were not going to get to a contract, and have only been costing them money in the meantime. Perhaps the biggest sticking point will be how much of a signing bonus crew will receive, representing ‘retro pay’ to the last raise. That is something flight attendants wouldn’t normally expect (pilots do get this). However Southwest’s new contract included retro pay and so it will be hard to sell any deal that doesn’t include an up-front inducement.

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, 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. “The Presidential election is approaching, and a majority of the board represents the sitting President seeking re-election. A strike by American Airlines would go badly for the President, which is in part why President Clinton halted a strike by American flight attendants in 1993.”

    Clinton had just been elected the year before. Your argument makes sense, but your support does not.

  2. The APFA is realizing their demands are not realistic based on settlements by DL and WN w/ their FAs and the fact that AA is not going to provide full retro – so AA FAs lose the longer the process is delayed.

    AA can’t afford any settlement with its FAs but has no choice but to settle.
    Then UA will be in the same process. Given their losses on their international system, UA will have to reform the way it runs its business or face degradation of its profits when it hikes the pay of its FAS.

  3. Not sure about everyone else, but it sure has been refreshing not hearing how the flight I’m on was specially selected for a credit card promotion PA.

  4. Not giving retro pay is nothing short of corporate thievery. Never mind the idea that pilots deserve it and flight attendants don’t (!!), Even if a company gives 100% retro pay, a corporation still makes off with $$$$$ every single day they drag out a contract passed its expiration date, as they get to continue paying outdated sick and vacation benefits and 401(k) contributions. Permitting airlines not to pay retro pay is just incentivising them to drag out contracts as long as possible, every time. It should not even be a question that workers of any type accept new contracts without retro – and the fact that it’s just considered business as usual is amoral and infuriating.

  5. It’s the Unions fault that their own members have gone this long without a raise. And even “IF” they get something like that, it would be HILARIOUS if the Union sucked up and clawed back all those unpaid Union Dues they are owed. I remember am article (on here I think) where it said that tens of millions in Union Dues were owed by AA FA’S and that was partially why the Union didn’t have a Strike Fund that could go beyond 30-60 days, tops. Southwest has a different model than AA and the negotiations and history were and are completely different. This whole ordeal has been ridiculous, the Union is pushing AA into bankruptcy, again.

  6. @BenG Tell me you have disdain for flight attendants without telling me you don’t. “APFA is going to bankrupt American” but not the pilots union that with their contract and their FULL retro pay cost AA +$2B?

    Your argument is actually offensive. Blaming the union for the COMPANY refusing to meet their demands, yet they met all of the pilots demands.

    Your commentary is giving you don’t support front line workers and you think Flight Attendants are undeserving of better wages and a better way of life.

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