Flight attendants are mandatory on commercial aircraft for safety reasons, primarily but not exclusively in the event of an evacuation. Most flight attendants, though, never face true life and death safety issues during their career. While they’re required to perform safety checks, they serve drinks and snacks and listen to customers complain about delays, the quality of the drinks and snacks, and about other passengers.
There are some absolutely brutal schedules that many flights attendants have to work. Flight attendants who used to work 3 days trips may have worked 4 day trips when airlines were short staffed. These longer trips may have had more waiting time between flights, or more running from flight to flight, often with legal minimum rest. Complaints of burnout are common.
Now the federal government is stepping in to mandate more rest.
NEW: The FAA will announce tomorrow that flight attendants will get more mandated rest time between flights, two sources familiar with the announcement tell CNN.
— Pete Muntean (@petemuntean) October 3, 2022
Flight attendants don’t get nearly the respect at airlines that pilots do. They don’t have the leverage and aren’t in nearly as short supply. An airline can replace flight attendants far more quickly. So brutal schedules are commonplace.
Still, flight attendants are unionized, and work schedules should be part of collective bargaining not government mandate. The FAA excuse for getting involved will be safety, saying flight attendants need more rest to reliably perform safety duties. But the FAA won’t have real evidence that current schedules are unsafe given that commercial air travel is the safest mode of transportation and has become more so decade after decade.
Underlying new rules will be an effort by the administration to intercede in collective bargaining on behalf of unions. That’s a consistent theme for the current administration, and the same reason the Biden administration dithered so long on a Jones Act waiver for emergency supplies to be delivered to Puerto Rico.
Tighter rest rules will mean more flight attendants needed to staff the same flights, which is good for flight attendants unions. Some flight attendants will get schedules they prefer, others will get schedules they like less. The proportion of each will depend on the particulars of the rules released on Tuesday.
The part most people aren’t going to see is that by imposing higher flight attendant costs on airlines through government work rules will limit the pay increases that flight attendants are able to achieve. If an airline can incur certain crew costs, and more of those costs are imposed by government, that’s less money left for raises. Unions will deny it, but this change will mean incrementally slower wage growth.