European Court To Rule If It’s Sexist To Give Flight Attendants Less Than Pilots For Meals, Hotels

Pilots have a lot more sway at airlines than flight attendants. It’s harder to become a pilot, in part because government regulations make doing so time-consuming and costly. That makes it hard to replace pilots. Pilots also have a lot more say over an airline’s operation, so can slow it down dramatically.

Those are important reasons why pilots are paid more. They receive better benefits. And their life on the road often features better hotels, better ground transportation, and higher meal allowances. Is that… fair?

The matter has been referred to the European Court of Justice over gender discrimination.

  • Flight attendants skew more female
  • While pilots tend to be male
  • And hotel and meal expenses aren’t supposed to be part of compensation, they’re supposed to cover travel costs on the road (they’re reimbursable rather than taxed)

The case revolves around the regional Spanish airline Air Nostrum which operates flights on behalf of Iberia. Air Nostrum argues that differing allowance rates between pilots and cabin crew is because of separate contracts and collective bargaining agreements that aren’t comparable.

…Air Nostrum maintains that the different contracts are legitimate because the ‘work value’ of pilots is different than cabin crew. Spain’s National Court remains unconvinced by this argument, maintaining that allowances shouldn’t form part of an employee’s remuneration.

A Spanish court couldn’t decide the issue, though the government has sided with the airline. The court wasn’t persuaded that different job duties warranted different travel policies. Although as a passenger concerned with safety, flight attendant protestations that they’re really safety professionals notwithstanding, I’m far more worried about pilot fatigue than flight attendant fatigue as a matter of relative risk.

I’m also not sure what an airline is supposed to do if meal and hotel details are determined by union contract, other than honor those contracts? The reality though is that collective bargaining is going to wind up in different places for pilots and cabin crew. And of course senior executives at a company are often afforded more generous travel allowances than the most junior ones.

American Airlines flight attendants are demanding 35% raises as part of contract talks, along with premium pay for working the galley and for night flying, pay for boarding time, and higher meal reimbursements and a clause that increases those allowances if pilots get more.

Shortly after I pointed out that pilots simply are in a position to get better terms from an airline than flight attendants are, the Director Of Communications for Sara Nelson’s AFA-CWA tweeted that these sorts of takes are misogynist.

Now, it’s true that pilots skew heavily male. Take at look at these protesting pilots and see if you can distinguish them from the Delta Air Lines chapter of Atlanta White Pride?

But pilots don’t gain better bargaining terms because they’re white, male, and often Republican. It’s because the pool of people eligible to become pilots is much smaller, and the time it takes to onboard pilots much longer. A company can’t just replace pilots in any reasonable timeframe (though a then-much smaller United Airlines tried in 1985).

Here, by the way, is what American Airlines flight attendants are asking for, knowing that they will not get it:

Outside of Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal bargaining doesn’t actually work by ‘naming the highest number you can think of because you’re going to wind up meeting in the middle’. Instead, union posturing needs to be understood with a Straussian lens.

  • The American Airlines flight attendants union can’t agree to a contract their members aren’t going to love before fall union elections, or union leadership will be booted
  • Talking up big numbers, on the other hand, helps get them re-elected – putting them in a stronger bargaining position vis-a-vis their own members to get the best deal they can from the airlines.
  • Currently APFA is bargaining against their members, not the company, when they put forth proposals like this.

That’s little different than Garland’s AFA-CWA promising Delta flight attendants – the only ones to receive boarding pay (something no AFA union has been able to secure) and the biggest profit sharing bonuses – that they’ll receive everything they get today from Delta under a lower-cost non-union arrangement and more if only they’d hand over a portion of each check to the union.

The Spanish flight attendants at Air Nostrum, though, have a unique strategy – what they can’t win at the bargaining table, they try to get imposed through the courts. But when AFA-CWA tried that it didn’t work out so well.

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. I think there’s one major consideration you’re overlooking: Without the unions, USA flight attendants would be hosed. They’d be put into the position of BA FA’s where they’d literally have to sleep in their cars because they were so horribly paid.

  2. @Christian maybe at Frontier! Surely not at Delta, since they have no union and all the other airline cabin crew are jealous of their comp

  3. It’s this a question of what is compensation vs what is reimbursement? Maybe the pilots should be taxed on reimbursement allowances greater than that of FAs?

  4. It is just defies all reason that Delta flight attendants get extra because they
    are non-union,
    They get more BECAUSE the other carriers are unionized and these little perks are to keep a union out.
    If all the other carriers were non-union watch how fast Delta leads a race to the bottom in wages and fringe benefits.

  5. Now let’s see them do the same thing for political back-benchers and senior party officials.

  6. Maybe actually provide factual data on how different the hotel accommodations are. all you’ve done is just list view points.

    My friend is a DL FA and just spent 32hours in ATL at the Grand Hyatt. Sorry, how is THAT a crap hotel? Last week she was in ICN and was at an equally nice hotel, with the pilots.

    The angle you’re trying to gleim is that pilots stay at the ritz and the FA’s stay at the motel 6.

  7. Whether it’s illegally sexist or not, it’s definitely greedy on the part of the airline to be more miserly with food allowances for the flight attendants.

  8. It’s what your union negotiates. Nothing to do with sex. There are males and females in both pilots and flight attendants.

    What’s next, equal pay for pilots and flight attendants?

    Some aircrew stay in nice hotels, some dumps. What’s next, all airlines have to use the same quality hotels?

  9. Life isn’t fair after the third grade

    Meal allowance should be tiered based on job title and experience

    Flight attendants are NOT as valuable as pilots. Not even close.

    90% of what a FA does on each flight could be taught to a high school dropout

    Airlines need to give more perks to employees that are more valuable and more marketable to other airlines.

  10. I feel for the cabin crew here, but facts of the matter are clear:

    It’s a job that requires zero skill; training is extremely short; the only differentiating factor is service. Which the cows in America decided they wouldn’t give.

    Here we are.

  11. @GUWonder don’t know! I covered late Justice Antonin Scalia’s use of private jets here, there was a clearly relevant angle to me – how he handled the cost and ethics issues (one of several posts )

    Other than “Thomas is reported to frequent a private jet offered to him by a friend who is a major donor to Republican causes” I’m not sure what I add here, since I am unfamiliar with Supreme Court disclosure rules [while some are referenced by propublica, they’re not consistent with my understanding when i looked at them in the context of the leaked alito abortion decision] and haven’t fully worked through what I think policy *ought to* be. For instance I think that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen should fly private and that the government should pay for it (

    So… probably not?

    Disclosure: I met Justice Thomas once, maybe 18 years ago, at a gathering where he gave some remarks to a small DC area non-profit of which I was a director at the time. I have never met Harlan Crow.

    Update: Washington Post coverage of the story ( reflects my understanding of ethics rules that – until last month – were frequently interpreted not to require disclosure of the trips that Justice Thomas accepted. These trips clearly raise appearance issues. Though most appointments to top powerful positions create opportunities for future wealth accumulation in ways that Supreme Court Justice does not (unless choosing to retire early and work, not something which is common). Presidents Obama and Clinton became wealthy post-Presidency. Fed governors do as well. Perhaps we should pay justices well enough that they can afford luxuries and not accept them from friends? Again I haven’t thought deeply about these issues.

  12. I just love the comments. Gives my family and friends a good laugh. Just more people that hate their lives and jobs so they have to stomp down on others. Very sad. For those that comment it takes no skill, your opinions just give us more to laugh at. Thanks.

    Gary, you’re getting fed wrong info. Our pilots and F/As stay at the same hotels. I can think of only one city and the F/As have the nicer one. Not sure what airline you’re referring to.

    The pilots in family say they’re starting to get more hate mail about wanting higher salaries and being replaced with computers. I tell them to buck up. I’ve dealt with stupid comments my entire 40+ flying career and can run circles around these people.

  13. Nonsensical issue. They have collective bargaining. This is what was negotiated. Also even if there wasn’t it does make sense that pilots would be given superior accommodation because frankly the lives of everybody is in their hands and you want them to be as well rested as possible. Meal reimbursement can be the same but again that goes back to collective bargaining.

  14. I am a paying First Class pax, but I bet both FAs and pilots will get better food than I on each of my four flights in the next four days.
    No plane can fly without pilots. No flight would lift off without paying pax.
    FAs are a luxury, not a necessity. Have one FA per flight to close the door. The others play on their phones and gossip during 85% of the flight.

  15. @DC not in DC….go back to school, get an education DC, get a job and then get into the real World. You obviously don’t know anything about aviation law, safety or security. So much you haven’t even begun to think about.

    Off that subject that I can’t talk about, let’s move onto meals. All airlines are different with their contracts. My airline will give pilots and flight attendants the same meal as you get on long haul flights. On shorter intl, the pilots get a meal, flight attendants nothing. On domestic flights pilots get meals on some and F/As never. My husband is a very lucky man. Flight attendants can work through anything, tougher than most and tackle the problems that arise. It’s funny to see so many C suite travelers get on and can’t even manage to find their seat or lift their bag into an overhead bin. The things I’ve seen. Scary!

  16. This article sort of meanders all over the place, which makes it hard to tell what the actual topic at hand is, but with respect to hotel accommodations at least, anecdotally (but with an n = several hundred), I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything other than a full flight crew (pilots and FAs) together checking in or loading up on the shuttle to head out in the morning. So I have always presumed that their lodging options were not differentiated in any manner.

  17. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that my prior understanding is correct, contract much of the early coverage, Justice Thomas does seem to have taken a reasonable position vis-a-vis disclosure rules and therefore did not act improperly.

    So the question this story raises [totally off topic!] is about appropriate conduct and appropriate disclosure (those disclosure guidelines were changed last month). It’s an awkward look! But what is the appropriate rule on accepting gifts from friends, should it be totally verboten and if so should a Supreme Court Justice become very highly compensated?

    Maybe here it’s that it looks awfully convenient that they should be such good friends? Should we be judging the genuineness of relationships?

    The U.S. President is underpaid, but Clinton, Obama et al go on to make huge sums post-presidency by virtue of their having been President. Generally that’s not the case or a justice. Maybe they should be paid in such a way that they can take a couple of luxurious weeks per year? And should they fly private, or does flying commercial keep them grounded?

    All good questions, I don’t have well thought out answers which is why I am not proposing anything or writing a piece on this.

  18. Perhaps it’s just the International and SWA flights I’ve been on but there seems to be quite a few FA’s who could stand to miss a meal . . . perhaps a few pilots also but not nearly as many.

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