Dramatic Showdown: American Airlines CEO Grilled by Flight Attendants After Earnings Call

American Airlines flight attendants have asked the federal government’s National Mediation Board for permission to strike. This is the second time they asked. The first, which if granted would have allowed them to potentially strike over the Christmas holiday, was rejected.

Now the union is telling its members that there will be negotiations on February 5th, and a status conference with the National Mediation Board on March 13th where they’ll “be able to further make our case for a release” to strike.

The union is asking to strike, and saying they will make a case that there’s an impasse in negotiations, several weeks before upcoming negotiations. This is posturing on the part of the union, which is in the midst of officer elections.

After the airline’s fourth quarter earnings call Thursday morning, CEO Robert Isom and top executives held a ‘State of the Airline’ session with staff, a recording of which is generally shared with me by several people. I haven’t reviewed the session yet. However, the flight attendants union posted their confrontation with Isom online – all wearing their red “W.A.R.” shirts, notably showing only the question asked and not his answer.

A third year flight attendant shares how she struggled with pay as a new hire based out of Boston (she’d have been eligible for food stamps). She “had to live with 12 other flight attendants just to afford housing and” food.

She offered,

Imagine dedicating your time, skills, and ENERGY to a full time job, only to find that the compensation falls short of providing a basic standard of living.

I’m not sure if she was surprised by the pay she was making at the job she applied for and accepted? What is challenging is that the contract became amendable in 2019. Flight attendants haven’t seen their incomes rise since then, but they’ve faced significant inflation in the economy.

American offered higher (Delta-level) wages at least four months ago. The union is pushing for more. Their officers can’t really compromise until they’re re-elected. And junior crew suffer most without a contract, because unlike pilots they won’t receive significant retro pay for the time since their last contract.

Under the deal currently offered, they’d receive wages equal to the top of the industry as well as new boarding pay and increased profit-sharing.

However, American Airlines makes less money than Delta so their profit sharing would be lower than Delta’s. For 2023 it’s equal just to 1.1% of wages whereas at Delta it’s more than an additional month’s pay.

Hopefully the sides can settle their differences. Under the current schedule we cannot see a strike before April, and it likely will not be a full strike. Flight attendants can’t afford to go very long without pay. So the union would instead target specific flights each day for no shows.

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. The FAs are betrayed by their union leadership who allow such low pay for low seniority FA and too high pay for those FAs with lots of seniority. Senior FAs do not evacuate the plane faster or serve snacks faster.

  2. Given the meager profits AA earned in the 4th Quarter, it seems reasonable to go to mediation with a lower offer than previously presented. AA simply can’t afford more and the mediation group would be forced to agree.

  3. Rolling sick outs, several hundred a day at each base for a week or two will cripple operations.

  4. Don’t wait for them to strike, lock them out. That way you can be prepared to hire replacements on day 1 of lockout. Thousands of eager new hires will be available within a week. Short term pain, long term gain.

  5. “Imagine dedicating your time, skills, and ENERGY to a full time job, only to find that the compensation falls short of providing a basic standard of living.”

    Did you research this before you joined? Most rational people who face something like this, and it does suck, find another job that pays better, if they have the skills.

  6. At this point, it’s just comical. Every other week it’s some other posturing and playbook drama from Julie and Co. They could’ve accepted the offer, gotten improved wages for the work group and negotiated the contract be eligible for renegotiation when a new industry standard exceeds what AA is offering and DL currently has. But, the union chose to balk at the current proposal from AA, thus screwing the younger FA’s like the one they just paraded up in SkyView..

    Gary, let’s also not forget this negotiating team tentatively agreed to terms to take work rules back to the “glory days of US Airways” by having new hires on straight reserve for the first three years of the being hired. Why? Because the seniors had to do it so now the new hires can do it too.

    AA should double down and demand a vast improvement in customer service from their FA’s in exchange for higher pay, but, we know that won’t happen either.

    The race to the bottom continues.

  7. American Airlines should be investigated. They must be snatching people off the street and forcing them into labor. Otherwise, these people would have had to actively sought out these jobs and knew what they pay scale was at the time they accepted employment and wouldn’t be constantly whining.

  8. Flight attendant training is an eight week training program. Previous work experience, based on a conversation with a current flight attendant, was managing a Jamba Juice location. 80 applicants for the one flight attendant job. Ouch. It’s all supply and demand. It’s not personal its business.

  9. What’s crazy is AA huge stock buyback program is still running even though that are not making money. They spend 12 billion on stock buybacks why? But they can’t pay their employees or give these people a raise! Stop putting so much faith in the democrats because the government will never allow a strike no matter who is in office.

  10. @Rozellevm – Paying higher wages decreases net income. Buying back stock does not impact net income.

  11. AA Management doesn’t have the guts to ground the fleet and shut down the airline, but they should.

    It’s the only way to deal with this stupid union-induced drama.

  12. The shame of the whole “deal” is the union members pay $50.00 (estimate) monthly in union dues and still go 5 years without a wage increase!

  13. To those whiners crying, “Lock them out!”

    You are obviously not in H.R. and are ignorant on labor laws.

  14. @a220
    Why would aa punish the other unions and employees when the NMB clearly thinks APFA is crazy too?
    The NMB has denied every strike request, to date.
    AA already holds all the cards in this except for a young FA who didn’t read the wages written in black and white.

  15. @MaxPower

    The NMB set out an email yesterday to AA they have until Feb 2nd. Or they will release.

  16. “Imagine dedicating your time, skills, and ENERGY to a full time job, only to find that the compensation falls short of providing a basic standard of living.”

    Poor baby! Was there a college degree involved? Because the young teachers I worked with had student loan payments to make. As Dewyne Parker pointed out above, FA is hardly a highly qualified position.

    I advise this young lady to count her blessings. She wouldn’t last the length of an SFO-OAK flight in a middle school classroom.

  17. @Tim ja – I wish that was true, but the NMB is giving AA until 02FEB to respond to the APFA’s request to be released. And that’s followed by another round of negotiations, followed by a status conference on 13MAR. There is no statement about being released yet.

    As with any job, unless you’ve done it you do not know what it’s like. It’s beyond unfortunate that people base their entire perception of flight attendants on the lousy one they experienced on their last flight. Some of us are actually very good. We do not rush through the service and then ignore passengers while we sit and play Candy Crush. We actually do your oh-so-important pre-departure beverages. We are kind and respectful – in the face of some eternally rude, self-absorbed people that don’t return the kindness. We actually work hard to try to make your journey from point A to point B as pleasant as possible. We’re not all lazy and callous and “whiners.”

    In regard to negotiations, other work groups at AA have received around 20% wage increases, which in most all cases brings them to the cost of living increase since the last wage increase. So AA flight attendants would like to receive an equal percentage increase as other work groups. AA’s 11% increase offer doesn’t cut it. While they have paid more toward debt than scheduled, while they have paid more into the pension program than scheduled (for those employees with longevity that gives them a pension of any sort), while they have bought back stock, we are asking for them to compensate us fairly – as they do with other employees.

    So go ahead, make your disparaging remarks, ignore those of us that actually do a good job, and think about how much you’re paid to do yours. Which I hope you put as much effort into as I do.

  18. @tim ja
    Yeah… no. Not what happened
    I hope the FAs get a great contract but their union leadership lied to them about what is achievable and all FAs are working month after month for a lower wage when higher wages have been available for months to a union that knew what they were doing
    Look at Cwa-ibt
    APFA leaders are just lying to their members and hurting them and it’s frankly sad. Unions are great except when leaders care more about their jobs than their own members

  19. Incompetent union who has let management slow walk them for years; membership that is unwilling and/or unable to oust it; level of actual inflight service required/produced dramatically reduced over the past two decades and on and on. I wore out my crying towel for this group a long a long time ago.

  20. If they want DL wages, they need to provide the same level of customer service that DL provides. DL has been consistently ranked as the #1 airline in the U.S. for years. The #1 ranking is something that AA lost a long time ago after the merger with US Airways.

  21. It boggles my mind how completely ignorant some of these responses have been. How easy it is to be on the outside looking in and being nothing but critical. However, most of you know nothing about the ins and outs of the Job.The long hours away from family, hours spent on the clock without pay such as sit times between flights, boarding and deplaning. The physical and verbal abuse endured by FA’s by spoiled, self centered passengers who lost their minds during COVID and turned into rabid animals… no amount of pay or job description is worth that kind of mistreatment. Not to mention weather delays, maintenance and mechanicals, filling the roll of EMT, firefighter and psychologist all in one. Many flight attendants have four year college degrees and struggle to pay student loans. Many are retired doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers… so before you pretend to be holier than thou chew on that for a minute.. Flight attendants save lives administering CPR during cardiac arrests and evacuate passengers out of burning aircraft in emergencies.. risking their lives to save yours on the rare occasion it happens. Hell the government labeled us as essential workers during the pandemic. Even hiring FAs to fill in at hospitals during medical staffing shortages. Show a little damn respect.. we aren’t asking for anything more than what all of you would be asking for in your own profession. A livable wage that keeps up with inflation. I bet the majority of all you haters out there got pay raises in the last few years. So please stop playing the hypocrite.

  22. Why is it that Corporate America refuses to put responsibility where it is due. The CEOs and executive branches run a corporation. But America keeps rewarding bad management. Corporate America dishes out multi million dollar bonuses to CEOs who have literally run their companies into the ground.

    Corporate America, loves to blame the frontline employees for their abysmal failures. American Airlines is a prime example. Every CEO since Bob Crandall has endangered American’s future. Don Carty, Gerard Arpey, Tom Horton, Doug Parker and now Robert Isom have all reaped millions of dollars in bonuses, and golden parachutes for relentless bad decisions and underwhelming performance. Parker cheapened the brand so badly, American became the next Spirit Airlines with a corporate mentality to match Walmart. Let’s give credit where credit is due and that falls squarely on the CEO and the board.

    So when Corporate America finally decides to punish CEOs for their bad performance instead of rewarding them for it, then maybe we as a whole can start to focus on providing good customer service. Like it or not it starts at the top not at the bottom.with frontline employees. America’s leaders have to .. well. LEAD BY EXAMPLE!

  23. D donny.

    These people who rolling sick outs should be immediacy fired. Any one who supports it should be fired.

    Any peep from the union and aa should immediately file a rico Acton against the union for aiding and.abbeting fraud.

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