How American Airlines Flight Attendants May Hand The Election To Donald Trump

American Airlines and their flight attendant union’s negotiating team are currently in Washington, D.C. with federal mediators in what the Association of Professional Flight Attendants labels ‘last ditch negotiations’. If a deal cannot be reached, they believe they can get the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse and release them from negotiations, starting a 30-day “cooling off period” that would then allow the employees to strike.

If this plays out as the union hopes – released to strike, and (assuming the company doesn’t fold to their demands) actually striking – American Airlines flight attendants could elect Donald Trump as President.

Without getting into debates of whom you wish to see win the election, I point this out because it’s likely not whom they wish to see as President on the whole.

Betting markets have the Presidential election as basically a toss-up, as of this writing giving Donald Trump a 53% chance of winning but a slight edge in the electoral college to a Democrat.

A strike will be bad for the country and for election narratives.

  • American Airlines carries more passengers domestically than competitors.
  • Even a targeted job action, failing to show up to work specific flights which change each day, will create enough uncertainty that American’s customers try to book away from the airline
  • Other airlines will not be able to absorb them. There will be very limited seats on other airlines, and other carriers won’t be able to systematically make up for capacity effectively taken out of the system in the short-run
  • That means people getting stranded and skyrocketing airfares. This will lead the news every single night.

A strike would be bad for the economy. It would be bad for voter perceptions of the economy. And
the President will be blamed for any strike – influencing voter views of the incumbent’s leadership.

  • Permission to strike must be granted by the federal National Mediation Board. President Biden has appointed a majority of the Board.
  • The President has the power to order an end to a strike. President Clinton ordered American Airlines pilots back to work. He also used his leverage to get the company and flight attendants to agree to arbitration.
  • Failing to exercise this power will be seen as kowtowing to unions, favoring his base (still important in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin) over the median voter.

While President Biden could benefit with base support by supporting a strike in certain states, note also that American Airlines operates hubs in battleground Arizona and Pennsylvania. If the President were to intervene that could hurt him in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as well.

Democrats hope to make gains picking up swing House seats, and an American Airlines strike could dash those hopes in suburban New York. The chance of Democrats picking up Ted Cruz’s Senate seat in Texas might be greatly diminished, also.

Whether you think this is normatively good or bad, just looking at the potential effects, it seems worth noting that American Airlines flight attendants could swing the election to Republicans – both for the Presidency and control of Congress.

The Biden campaign, and Presidential appointees at the National Mediation Board, also know this and may be the biggest factor in considering movement that American Airlines has made in increasing its financial offer in negotiations to mean that there is not an impasse – and possibly not even an impasse until mid-December (so that no strike happens until after the holidays). But they might not!

For many American Airlines flight attendants, the outcome of the election isn’t as important as the fact they haven’t gotten a raise since January 1, 2019. On the other hand, maybe they’d prefer an immediate 17% raise while continuing to negotiate (without giving up anything in exchange) over potentially influencing the next four years for the nation – for better or worse?

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I can appreciate this article but I would find myself far more annoyed with American Airlines and just fly someone else in the interim. I don’t think enough regular people fly AA tp sway an entire election. And I would never vote for a candidate based on that. The Democrat policies have been disastrous for this country and most people don’t understand that inflation may cease to rise or rise much more slowly but that we will never experience deflation. The prices aren’t coming down, but those of us who lead with logic knew this when they screamed for huge spikes in pay increases and pumped so much money out making the dollar useless. This is why we are not a majority rules nation, thank goodness. Because the founding fathers knew the majority isn’t always practical and that majority can create mob rule. Pre-COVID the country and the state of the world was in a much better place during the Trump administration. The comparison is clear and I don’t care enough about abortion to vote on that alone. We, women, have over 20 options available to prevent pregnancy at multiple points in the process before it gets to that. Move to a state or vote for state reps that follow your principles on abortion and leave the rest of us out of it. This economy and national security impacts us all.

  2. You forgot to mention that the Southwest flight attendant won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the company and union and got her job back.

  3. That’s an absurd take. There is only one thing that will decide the election – the economy. Inflation is easing, America is at full employment, and the markets keep reaching all-time highs. Rate cuts are likely between now and November, further pumping markets. Housing inventory should nudge up. If the bottom doesn’t unexpectedly fall out in the next 5 months, my money’s on the incumbent.

  4. My bet is that rate cuts are unlikely for the rest of this year and that inflation will heat up again.

  5. The economy is doing great right now the last thing we need is another republican injecting a trillion into fake businesses again lol

  6. Gary, I’m not sure what year you’re living in, but all available data suggests that in the case of a labor action in 2024, the overwhelming majority of American will side with the workers.

    Labor unions currently enjoy ~70% approval, and Americans would like them to be more (rather than less) powerful by about a 17-point margin. In the most recently-polled strikes, those of autoworkers and Hollywood writers, Americans sided with labor by 27-point and 33-point margins, respectively.

    It’s possible that in some older, center-right places (e.g. the Phoenix exurbs) annoyance with an immobilized AA could move enough marginal votes to affect a very close election, but it’s just as likely that Biden having the chance to take a strong pro-union stance could shore up not only Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, but Nevada as well. It also might help Ds more than it hurts them in TX, a state with a large population of young (and thus pro-union) voters.

  7. Brandon- “If the bottom doesn’t unexpectedly fall out in the next 5 months, my money’s on the incumbent.”

    Hate to point out the obvious, but he is knocking on death’s door. The only difference between him and Jimmy Carter is Biden is standing.

  8. Dave and Brandon what America are you living in? The reality for most middle class workers is far different than what you are trying to sell. Mortgage rates going up, cost-of-living going up, wages are not keeping up with inflation, gas prices going up, unfettered illegal immigration on our borders, increased crime, increased drug use. Is there something I’m missing?

  9. Saying you’ll just fly another airline and not be upset ignores the fact that they won’t have any seats for you. If you live in OA or AZ, the American hubs there will paralyze local travel plans. It’s not so much that it’s Biden’s fault, it’s that it puts him in a no win situation between PA/AZ and Michigan union voters.

  10. We have already seen an increase in sob stories about the terrible life of junior American airlines flight attendants. This is, of course, largely the result of payment preferences of the union, which prefers agreements that pay senior flight attendants a lot and junior flight attendants relatively little. I suspect that the public would be generally split in their opinion if a strike actually happened. Candidly, most liberal voters have little appreciation for economics and their heartstrings would pull them toward the flight attendant side. Most of the rest of the country would oppose the strike and many would blame Biden. It is probably a net loss to Biden in swing states.

  11. This election will be decided on just two issues, the economy and abortion. Everything else pales in comparison.

  12. I think this is a very interesting take, and that the comments are mostly idiotic. Does anyone think that Trump won’t start blaming Biden for this? And start gay bashing the transportation secretary?

    I love the “I’ll just fly a different airline”. comments. Obviously Econ 101 is not a requirement at community college.

    Btw: James N says:
    ““The morons of our country will get what they vote for.” Just like they did with Biden. When will people figure this out?”

    You mean we got an intelligent response (and thus end to) pandemic; a government intervention that basically saved people’s asses; resilient economy; record stock market; near record low unemployment despite the Fed actions; what’s looking to be a brilliantly executed soft landing from that fiscal stimulus. Oh, also some decorum and class in the White House, as opposed to the foaming at the mouth idiocracy of the Magats. Etc etc

    Forget about the convicted felon stuff. Although, does anyone think Trump isn’t guilty of a couple felonies? Even if it isn’t this one?

    I used to vote Republican. I’ll take Joe Biden’s USA any day over Donnie Poopypants.

    James, you ever heard that saying about looking around the table and not being able to figure out who the sucker is?

  13. It appears Steve has swallowed the political kool-aid. He fails to mention close-to-record inflation, housing prices at historical highs, gas and grocery prices higher than any time in the past four years, the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine, etc. etc…

    It fascinates me that people actually “think” salvation will be achieved via the voting booth. I guess multiple decades of evidence do nothing to cloud their Pollyanna views.

  14. This article seems to be pro employer, not the FA’s. Every employee should be paid a fair and livable wage. There are many other reasons why the FA’s will strike, look them up.

  15. @Sandra H – I have been second to none in pointing out that flight attendant wages have been eroded by inflation, and that American cabin crew in particular haven’t seen an increase since January 1, 2019.

    I was first, I believe, to write about American’s Boston-based first and second year flight attendants being eligible for SNAP (last year!) – before the union itself even started promoting the narrative about food stamps.

    This is not “pro-employer.” That take has more to do, I imagine, with you not liking Donald Trump. Like Trump, dislike Trump, whatever that is beside the point. This is about drawing out the consequences of a strike.

  16. I personally think the middle class will fully support the membership. Don’t be fooled by the 17% without reaching a contract for 5 years . (Negotiate properly) That was a publicity stunt. If we go bankrupt it will be because of corporate greed. Enough of the fat cats, and golden parachutes after driving a company into the ground. We saved the company after 9/11 and again during Covid ( we had to work while everyone else stayed home) The government needs to stop bailing out the airlines if the money goes in the wrong hands. We need new legislation, and policies put in place. Support the middle class!

Comments are closed.