Double Pay Scandal: American Airlines Flight Attendants Game System To ‘Steal’ Extra Pay

American Airlines doesn’t share everything it knows about delays with passengers – or flight attendants. But savvy flight attendants have been taking advantage of this to pick up extra pay, according to the airline. And American plans to investigate and discipline cabin crew who try it.

Frequently when there are delays and misconnections, there are flights that are missing cabin crew and extra trips that flight attendants can pick up for more pay. If those flight attendants can predict which trips are going to have rolling delays, they can pick up those trips which wind up creating a conflict with their existing schedules when they delay even further, and wind up getting paid for both without working them both.

That’s a practice that the airline is warning crew not to engage in, and threatening employees with discipline, according to an internal memo shared by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

Everyone knows that American Airlines frequently posts departure times that are impossible during delays, and knows when further delays are inevitable but American fails to post them. So flight attendants take advantage of this process failure, according to the airline, picking up sequences that will create conflicts with their legally mandated rest. And since that conflict isn’t their fault they get paid for both trips.

  • Flight attendants have to have a minimum of 10 hours’ rest between trips
  • If a trip needs crew, and it hasn’t been delayed enough to run into this rest period, they can pick up the trip for extra pay
  • Then when the trip gets further delayed, they can’t work the next trip
  • But since it’s not their fault, they still get paid for that trip – and American has to find different crew

American is threatening disciplinary action against flight attendants who do this. It’s the result of American’s policy of posting rolling delays – they don’t show how long a flight will ‘really’ be delayed since there’s a 1% chance a flight could be delayed for less time.

  • A mechanical problem isn’t as bad as they think
  • A plane might not be arriving for an hour, and will take some time to deplane and then board, but they post just a 30 minute delay because maybe they’d swap aircraft for one at the next gate over?
  • Or they’re missing crew, those crewmembers are coming in on flights that don’t arrive for an hour, but they post delays 10 minutes at a time because maybe the prophet Elijah will show up to work the flight in the meantime?

These rare delay recoveries don’t happen, delays extend 10 minutes at a time even though it’s obvious that delay will be much longer, and it’s not just an annoyance for passengers but a valuable exploit for some crew.

Normally I’d say this warning from American is mostly an empty threat because it is difficult to prove that flight attendants knew better than the airline’s own operations team about what would happen with future delays, and that this knowledge was used in formulating an attempt to cheat the airline.

However the flight attendants union has been weak in defending members against discipline by the company.

  • The President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants reportedly encourages discipline of members by the company, going along with the return of ‘attendance points’ for using sick days which were suspended during the pandemic, since flight attendants calling out sick causes senior members of the union to have to work reserve.

  • And the union actually helps the airline track down and fire flight attendants (“the cartel”) who rent out their seniority.

I wrote a decade ago about how this management’s philosophy didn’t respect customer time. They didn’t post delays until the last minute even when those delays were obvious and certain. And they would post delays 10 – 20 minutes at a time even when such short delays were impossible.

That meant customers needed to be at the airport and the gate far earlier than necessary. Customers would leave he lounge with their flight still showing on-time, only to arrive at the gate to no aircraft.

That’s annoying, but I developed the habit of tracking inbound aircraft rather than airport monitors. It turns out the practice also is a costly one for the airline, because its own crews game them for more pay when they’re short-staffed.

Instead of holding crew accountable for American’s failure to share what to really expect from delays, the solution is to post accurate departure projections in the first place. American acknowledges these are known, since they are obvious even to cabin crew, or else crew couldn’t do what they’re being accused of. Unfortunately American’s solution is to threaten and investigate flight attendants, who are already asking government permission to strike.

Seven years ago the mantra of the airline was that American would ‘take care of employees, so employees would take care of customers, and customers would pay more to fly American.’ We don’t hear much about that anymore, and increasingly under Senior Vice President Brady Byrnes there’s an us-versus-them mentality between the companies and front line employees.

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. So go after the crew for scheduling trips that are valid based on the bad information the company has posted.

    Why not just post correct information when they have the data? It’s 2024, AA.

  2. The best info of the article:
    “I developed the habit of tracking inbound aircraft rather than airport monitors.”
    This will be the bast way to gage when I need to be at the gate. Thanks!

    The rest is just working people trying to make a buck.

  3. AA’s disingenuous use of reasonable departure times is their own fault. AA controls the data. Good luck proving any of this and I’m guessing the Dept. of Labor would have a different opinion since what the FAs are doing is within the confines of the CBA.
    One easy way for AA to avoid this is post realistic departure times for delayed flights. I’m pretty sure passengers would appreciate that too.

  4. I’m with the FAs on this one .

    The executive suite can get a grip on it’s own failings , including tight schedules , and overbooking .

  5. “You get what you pay for.” The flight attendants have been going 5 years without a wage increase. These folks also have increasing cost of living expenses. No wonder the service on American Airlines continues to decline. Brandy Byrnes should make peace with the flight attendants as they are all on the same team.

  6. Correct me if I’m wrong………American Airlines agreed to this F/A contract and signed off to this and now they don’t want to agree to the terms that is LEGAL for the F/A to do this?

  7. this has been going on for years… nothing new. Now, just because their in contract negotiations, AA management is winning about another thing..

    Yet, Isom’s salary is at $31.4M for a poor-performing airline with no vision.

    Way to go AA.

  8. This happens at every airline to some degree and pilots are just as guilty if not more. Every CBA has rules for premium pay that can be manipulated in cases of irregular ops. As an employee working in operations, it causes serious resentment to see the problems you must solve accumulate during an already difficult day due to crew that don’t want to work but still want to get paid. So sleazy.

  9. All those talking about tracking inbound…that only works if..

    1. When the aircraft lands it has an ongoing crew or your crew has not timed out
    2. There is not a tail swap. Tail swaps are common

    FA’s doing nothing wrong. Always follow the CBA…. If it is allowed…it is allowed. AA takes advantage if their FA’s and FA’s can take advantage of the agreed upon CBA.

  10. The company will move heaven and earth to exploit every detail of the CBA when enforcing employee working conditions…. But now they throw a hissy fit when the FAs find a loophole to work in their favor, that’s a result of company shenanigans?? Get bent…. You create the problem, you get to pay for the consequences….

  11. This gaming of the work rules benefits those with the most seniority the most, does it not?

  12. I have several points to make about this. I’ve been a FA for AA for over 32 years. This article is very accurate, except for one main mistake you make Gary.

    – @RPCV, you are correct. AA AGREED to this stipulation when the current contract was negotiated, because they have benefitted from that clause as well. When they allow FAs to “double up” trips, they are getting more work out of a single FA in a shorter period of time. By doing so they don’t have to have an additional FA to work that second trip. THEY ARE THE ONES who agreed to this, looking at the labor cost savings. And now they are upset that it created a loophole that FAs can use to make more money. AA has to hold itself accountable for that negotiations mistake.

    – @Jake, you too are correct. Pilots ROUTINELY do things similar to this in order to be illegal to fly a trip and get paid for it. It’s an open secret with all of them. A simple example is, let’s say a flight is delayed and the scheduled arrival will make the pilots (or one of them) only legal by six minutes for their next flight. WANT TO GUESS HOW MUCH LONGER YOUR TAXI-IN TIME WILL BE? That’s just one example, there are a ton more. All that to say, it’s not just those FAs.

    – @Gary, you are entirely wrong about something. You state “And the union actually helps the airline track down and fire flight attendants (“the cartel”) who rent out their seniority.” The APFA’s biggest failure, in my opinion, is allowing illegal trip trading that results in seniority violations. NOT ONLY do they NOT help AA “track down and fire” FAs, they ONLY protect the violators. You are grossly wrong on this one.

  13. @Gary Stealing wow !!!!
    If the system has loopholes
    It’s not the flight attendants fault.
    Who ever designed the program is at fault. Plenty of loopholes that very savvy passengers use.
    Which I’m pretty sure you know about. And Probably use!!!
    Maybe if AA took care of its employees they wouldn’t have to resort in finding loopholes in the system.
    I say you are a AA flight attendant basher. Better yet all flight attendants. And very one sided.
    I have a hand full of flight attendants working at my company just so they can make ends meet. Very professional. The struggle is real my friend.
    Maybe you should address airline corporate greed!!! But that doesn’t fit you MO.

  14. If there is one industry that uses system nuances and minutiae to set policies that screw customers, it is the airlines. Now some of AA’s employees are using AA’s system nuances and policies to THEIR advantage. Delightful!

  15. Well, well, well. This explains a lot.

    Isn’t it true that the FA’s don’t have a contract because they want to greedily wait for other airline contracts to help their negotiations?

    Corruption in the crew? Who would have thought it? The airline is a joke, and their management has turned the crews into clowns. When you think of it, given the shortage of qualified crew, what could AA possibly do to any violators? The only thing saving AA is the fact that most of the other airlines are gaming the traveller just as well.

  16. Why not just stop this bidding nonsense? I don’t bid times when I can go to work and at the location of my choice. Why can’t AA or other airlines do what airlines in Asia and ME do – send a roster of flights to each FA? Use bidding as an incentive – 2 bids a month etc? It’s a job not a picnic. They all claim that they get 10 X more applicants for each FA job opening. Good. Hire those who can live with the best airline practice at salaries you want to pay. Seems to work on every other job in the world. Nothing unique about this role.

  17. 31.4 million dollars for Robert Isom for 1 year salary. I would say the only one gaming the system is upper management

    NO MORE!

  19. I never thought I’d live to see the day when Gary Leff took the side of the flight attendants. Am i in the upside down?

  20. Corruption starts at the top and everyone else follows.
    Let’s see
    We have Government Corruption
    At every level.
    Politicians Corruption at every level.
    Wall Street Corruption .
    Corporation Corruption!!!!!!
    State , City, county Corruption at every level.
    And here you are pointing fingers at Flight attendants.
    And the majority of the people here making comments on a topic they know little or nothing about.
    Don’t blame the flight attendants for a loophole that the company put in place.

  21. John and FF2 – you’re illiterate. Robert – bet you wish you were smart enough to do more than clean toilets.

  22. As a flight att., can I explain from our prospective? We have a sign In at 1600. I sign in, and they know plane won’t arrive for another two hours. BUT, AA doesn’t tell us, till we are signed in at the airport. So is it an extra 2 hours, plus deplaning that plane. Then board mine, with no pay. NO pay, yes you heard me correct. There are two sides to every story. Very sad, AA is trying to making their flight att’s, who apologize over and over again, to our passengers, for
    When the operations fails us. Shame shame ‼️✈️

  23. Do you know the AA flight attendant contract? If not the quit writing about things you aren’t qualified to write about.

  24. How is it wrong when their own scheduling system allows them to do it. It’s not anyone’s fault that a flight gets delayed no one can predict that. Go get your money fas. Robert Isom just made $31million dollars all while everyone is is struggling.

  25. It’s funny how this INCOMPETENT EXECUTIVES want to punish FAs for what? If your bidding system allows illegalities guess what AA? That’s on you not on them and since you are a bunch of pricks I would do it time and time again why not? If you are so incompetent that see the flaw and you don’t even do anything to corrected it’s on you AA and inflight leadership are the ones that Should be fired for INCOMPETENCE PERIOD.

  26. To be clear, it’s not 10 hours “rest” between trips it’s 10 hours “free from duty” (which is 15 minutes after block in to an hour before departure). So extended deplaning, hotel transportation delays, etc are included in the 10 hour minimum. The minimum is “8 hours behind the door” which clearly can result in 6 hours sleep at a minimum.

  27. American Airlines needs to bust this flight attendant union! It’s about time! If you don’t like your job the door is more than open for you, bye!! And these flight attendants wonder why there’s yet to be a contract put into place! The company knows they have the upper hand here and they do! Strike and there’s 15 people lined up for your job!

  28. My friend is a southwest airlines flight attendant who has worked the system for years Getting free benefits and working maybe 100 hours a year for over 5 years and constantly on vacations. There is some system where they go online and give away their tripps g
    For orhers to pick ups. Addituonally used the boeing plane for volunteering 2 years off then covid volunteering to be off then she used covid illness to be off followed by a shoulder injury disability So doe those 3 to 5 years no work at all but getting unemployment during covid even though she volunteered then sick pay and disability. She is waiting for one more year to get a lifetime of free flights. They allow all this

  29. @mark johnson. F/As are working under the last contract from years ago. What we don’t have is a new contract. F/As are not any greedier than AA management or the pilots. Isom got 34 million for a shitty job. No one can justify no raise for 5 YEARS. But its ok for management to rake in millions the past 5 years? Get bent. What makes any one any better or worse for wanting to make a living. Why bc he is a CEO? We have plenty of FAs with college degrees, it’s a prerequisite. Isom is proof that income and education does not make you visionary or a good CEO. Southwest FAs just got $90 per hour. Within hours Isom came out with that Southwest isn’t a true comparison but yet he is directing AA towards that set up and away from Delta and United. At investors day not everyone was impressed by their presentation for the future. They are looking for anything to spite the flight attendants bc they are mad we haven’t given in, waaaa. We are well aware that Isom and Byrnes have zero respect for us. Byrnes just got himself bit in the arse by trying to write up the crew he had on his flight and he was a jerk. At this point he has NOT apologized to the crew. I really dont get the animosity and the disrespect. But that is how they run AA. These guys act like children who don’t want to share their sandbox and are pouting in the corner. but yet they need us and can’t fly with out us. Our training is 6 weeks, thats after the several weeks it takes for the hiring process. We are not that easy to replace. We have a high turnover with new hires from either getting fired or quitting. So don’t believe all the hype.
    For everyone who calls FAs Coke machines, lol. I hope someday you are on a flight with a medical emergency and instead of saving your life, which we are trained to do, the FA stands over you with a Coke in their hand.

  30. How dare someone other than executives get paid for work they are not actually doing?!

  31. I’m starting to think Gary’s Mom had an affair with a pilot, his heart broken by a FA and his bag with his favorite butt plug lost somewhere connecting though DFW.

    Seriously why do you hate labor so damn much man, you realize this job isn’t nearly as easy as sitting behind a keyboard, right?

    Your lack of empathy is astounding

    You wana go after something ? Go after the folks holding up or causing issue w the ATC contract. Do some investigation there and publish that.

    Look at how many saves they’ve accomplished last week alone, publish that. Publish how their purchasing power has decreased 29% and they can’t do a damn thing about it.
    Go shine a light on their union we know you hate unions so go look at that.

  32. AA flight attendants. For about a week you need to stop picking up ALL trips; let them cancel. Now see what management has to say. This is so unprofessional at every level to say that employees are stealing by picking up “ delayed “ flights. They should be thanking you. I have done this before, fingers crossed that I would time out the next day with min rest. They need to change the algorithm, if it troubles them so. Also, pilots do this as well, sometimes at 300 percent when the perspective company is short staffed, are they thieves?

  33. AA will never learn. It’s sad. It was once a company I was really proud to work for. But it’s just absurd now. I’ll never forget getting a memo, after a summer of complete operational incompetence, about “the art of the apology.” Seriously…. How about FIX the problems so we don’t have to effing apologize a hundred times a day! I don’t think management has any idea how demoralizing it is to constantly have to apologize for things beyond your control. How dehumanizing it is to be constantly attacked, insulted and criticized for the failures and choices of a management team that only cares about the bottom line. They NEVER look at themselves and how they are contributing to the problems and causing unnecessary stress to their Frontline employees. Just like in this situation – they could easily post correct, honest, useful information that crews and passengers would appreciate. Instead, they do these rolling delays that infuriate everyone and cause increasing logistical problems. They create unnecessary anxiety which exacerbates everything. As far as the crew gaming the system – good for them! If AA were to actually look at all the time the flight attendants worked for FREE, I have no doubt the company would still be ahead. Not to mention all the times they reschedule flight attendants, when they are supposed to be off duty, for company needs, at the expense of anything the flight attendant has personally planned for their scheduled time off. If they don’t like what the flight attendants are doing, then they need to fix the problem. Push realistic departure times. Don’t blame them for taking advantage of bad business practices. When you create an environment where people feel devalued and disrespected, don’t be surprised when they’re disloyal.

  34. To claim FAs are stealing is a straight falsehood. The computer allows this because the true departure time is not stated because the company is not updating appropriately. The FA picks up a trip because based on the info the company provides- they are still legal- otherwise the computer wouldn’t permit the transaction. Why are you trying spewing negative narratives about FAs? You should be ashamed of yourself for spreading garbage.

  35. Pretty ridiculous! AA schedules things that are impossible to attain then blames their workers. Without crew filling in for these last minute dispatches the planes are going to stay on the ground. They should be thanking crew for taking the OT and planning for the inevitable need to dispatch someone to cover for the first FA who took the OT. AA has the data as well and I can promise you the little cost of paying the FA for the flight that didn’t go is nothing compared to delayed or grounded planes. FA’s at this point should just refuse to take any OT and see how fast AA changes their tune.

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