Government Tells American Airlines Flight Attendants They Have To Work Christmas Flights

The American Airlines flight attendants union asked the federal National Mediation Board to declare an impasse in their bargaining over a new contract. That’s required under the Railway Labor Act in order to begin to strike.

The union was asking for this now so that the 30 day waiting (“cooling off”) period would expire during everyone’s Christmas travels – to inflict the most damage on American, if they didn’t agree to 50% wage increases.

I’ve written that no Christmas strike would happen. One of two outcomes would occur,

  1. The National Mediation Board would wait until at least December 4 to respond to the union’s request, so that any strike happened after holiday travel.

  2. The National Mediation Board would send the union back to the bargaining table. While American hasn’t met union wage demands, progress has continued in other areas of their contract through various bargaining sessions. The NMB would consider there not to be an ‘impasse’ yet, as they did with Southwest Airlines pilots over the summer.

And it’s this second that happened. The National Mediation Board denied the union’s request for release from negotiations.

I’d love to see flight attendants get better pay. I’d love to see American insist on greater service accountability in exchange for that higher pay. But flight attendants don’t have nearly the leverage of pilots or even mechanics. And the amounts they’re asking for are out of line with the industry, and they’re asking it of an airline that is poorly positioned to pay it. American has more debt, and lower profits, than competitors.

  • Flight attendants aren’t really in a position to strike, since most cannot afford to go without pay and the union doesn’t have the coffers to fund significant strike pay. Instead all the union is really planning is wildcat strikes, focused on specific flights on specific days – so that only a handful of crewmembers give up pay and only on specific days rather than for weeks on end.

  • American isn’t likely to agree to richer terms than what any other airline offers. They’re already offering to match Delta pay (though since American is less profitable than Delta, actual profit sharing would be lower). If the union wants a better deal, they should wait for United flight attendants to strike a bargain and then work to improve on that.

  • Since flight attendants aren’t likely to get retro pay back to when their contract became amendable, as pilots generally do, the longer they go without raises the worse off they are financially. Delay benefits the airline, not flight attendants, since American pays lower wages while this drags on.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants is railing against the National Mediation Board and its decision. But the board is dominated by Biden administration picks (2-1), and includes a former lawyer for a flight attendants union. This is not a group biased against labor, or against cabin crew.

They weren’t going to hand the Biden administration a holiday hot potato heading into holiday travel and re-election, though. It was poor strategy on the part of the union to ask for release with this schedule in mind, or to do it while other contract issues were in fact seeing progress.

They either need to wait out a better deal from a competitor, or do something now and make it as short a deal as possible (to lock in higher wages rather than foregoing higher pay until a new deal is done), and plan for the next one.

Meanwhile, the union says that they plan to ask to strike again after their December 12-14 mediation session, if the airline doesn’t give them what they’re after.

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. There is 2 sides. The flight attendants have been without a contract for almost 5 years. The cost of living has increased over the past years. President Biden supported the auto workers to get increased wages but will not support AA flight attendant to get wage increases. Should the flight attendants be released to strike President Biden will most likely force the fight attendants union to return to work.

  2. the simple reality is that the is a collective bargaining process and it has not played out. The APFA overplayed its hand and their credibility with their membership will take a hit.

  3. Is anyone up for a multi-segment Loyalty Point run on December 25? I am convinced there will be some holiday cheer to be found, even more than usual!

  4. The FAs only have themselves to blame. They rallied behind Laura Glading for a miserable merge which was the beginning of the end for AA. Glading promised “the best of both contracts” which was laughable. Now, the FAs are stuck with a contract that was voted down in 2014 but Glading enforced, so look in the mirror for any sympathy.

  5. APFA tried a political game and failed. As Tim said, they overplayed their hand. This is a NMB about as pro-labor as one can get and was never going to agree to the timing of a strike over Christmas. This APFA leadership group has shown it has interests of part of its membership in mind and probably won’t survive its own upcoming election that I believe closes the end of January. I think as with any negotiation at a struggle of wills, some new blood may help push some progress. If anything, the next group of APFA leadership will have the benefit of approaching the company simply by not being the last group of people.

  6. @Joe T: “The flight attendants have been without a contract for almost 5 years.”
    Per a Forbes article (“American Airlines Flight Attendants Say They Will Strike If They Must”), the contract was amendable in December, 2019, less than 4 years ago. The contract is still in place since the contracts never expire per the Railway Labor Act. The last raise was more likely almost 5 years ago, but that raise was most likely for a year long period. Almost 4 years is still a long time but no use creating facts for a narrative.

  7. What job gets a 50% increase in pay other then drug dealers and the mob. A McDonald’s cashier is not worth $100 an hour to sell a $3.50 burger. How can a Flight attendant be worth so much to serve drinks. Which is a majority of their time other then sitting down doing nothing. Safety information has been replaced by Videos BA does it AA only does real time as they have no monitors

  8. No group, pilots and mechanics included, gets full back pay. It always works in the companies favor to delay, delay, delay. And under the Railway Labor Act, they’re allowed to.

  9. And yet the union continues to endorse any empty suit that the Democrats offer, any EMPTY suit. Short term goals have long term effects

  10. Tomri, we are not there to just serve drinks. We are there to drag your stupid ass off the airplane!!! We are trained to do CPR, put sit fires and evacuate airplanes. We have been without a contract for 5 years!! We will get this raise or we will close this outfit down!

  11. @Jen….yawn
    The greeter at Walmart is trained in CPR and how to use a fire extinguisher. Oh and yeah… the 80 year old senior mama’s or the obese 400 lb “male” flight attendant (the one with the earrings and magenta nails) are really going to dummy-drag 150 people off of a fully-engulfed airplane fire.
    Look. Your job requires a GED at best….and a few weeks in “training”. ZERO intelligence is required. In fact, you don’t even need to be borderline attractive anymore.
    Get real and lose the over-inflated sense of self importance.

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