How American Airlines Is Cracking Down On Flight Attendants Who Sell Their Job Duties

American Airlines flight attendants have been selling their seniority to more junior crewmembers for cash. They book trips that they do not intend to take – more desirable trips than what the junior cabin crew could secure on their own – and then they ‘trip trade’.

Flight attendants who do this at American Airlines – mostly legacy US Airways crew – are known informally as “The Cartel.” I shared the note that the flight attendants union sent out, highlighting the practice. American Airlines sent out a warning as well.

All BOS, LGA, PHL and DCA flight attendants

It’s been a while since we last communicated about fairness in bidding and trip trading, and unfortunately, we continue to receive reports about some flight attendants gaming the system. Whether you know them as “the cartel” or by other names, their alleged activity, when proven true, violates not only our policies but also the spirit of fairness with which our systems were designed.

While it’s disappointing that some of your co-workers choose to manipulate our systems for personal gain, we also know the vast majority of you play by the rules. Moving forward, our IT teams will pull reports from FOS and other systems to analyze suspicious bidding and trading activities. Additionally, leaders at each base will follow up when they’re alerted to alleged improprieties – either flagged via our automated systems or when crew members bring them to our attention. We will conduct formal investigations, including interviewing involved flight attendants. Our findings may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment in cases where we determine someone violated our policies. Simply put, if it’s proven you’re abusing our systems, the consequences would most likely be career-ending.

PBS, TTS/UBL, ETB and ROTA were all designed with fairness and flexibility in mind. We expect all crew members to use them in the spirit they’re intended. As we kick off 2022, we want to say “thanks” for all you do every day, on every flight, for caring for each other and our customers on their journey.

Crew have been warned like this in the past, and little has come of it. However it’s become pretty clear at the company who is doing it. One observer shares with me, “[I]t was much more obvious in the Northeast cities because their trips are crappy at baseline, and ultra junior [flight attendants] were getting” Tel Aviv, Delhi, Zurich, London Heathrow (especially “from Boston”) and South America routes.

When a junior employee based out of a city with little long haul flying consistently gets trips to the airline’s most desirable destinations that looks suspicious. And when these trips are consistently being given up by the same senior crew month after month, and picked up by the same set of junior crew, it isn’t hard to sort through what’s going on – once they start looking for it.

One interesting aspect of this imbroglio is that it points out how much value there is in seniority. It’s only natural for some employees to seek to monetize that. It makes explicit how much those without seniority are losing out on, making it difficult for unions to maintain cohesion. At some level you might expect this to benefit American Airlines in the long run, except that they likely want the union’s rank and file to vote in lock step for whatever contract is agreed to in current negotiations.

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. This is one of those ‘it comes along once in a while humorous stories’.
    Thanks. Nice to see non-Flyertalkers beat the system. 😉


  2. The victims are the next in seniority FAs who wanted to fly those routes but were denied by The Cartel who snapped them up and sold them to junior FAs with access to money. In a sense, it’s Pay to Play, only The Cartel are selling what should be a non-transferable right.

  3. Unions doing union things

    Reminds me of the good old days when executives bought first class refundable international tickets, billed them to their employer under company expense policies than immediately exchanged them for coach either pocketing the difference or buying free tickets for wife and kids on same flight for free and there was still $ left over

  4. Does the senior FA end up flying the lines that were bid by the junior one? It seems to me that if a senior FA wants to sell his Buenos Aires trip to somebody junior, and work a bunch of Indianapolis legs instead, there really aren’t any victims.

    Despite what C_M says above, I don’t think the next-most-senior FA loses here. If this practice is stopped, the senior FA will just work Buenos Aires himself.

    Seriously: am I missing something?

  5. No, grichard, they are not working IND trips. They bid more trips than they intend to fly. By selling them, they pad their income and fly low hours. As a 22 year flight attendant that can’t hold shit, my blood boils when the same 8-9 year flight attendants end up on international trips month after month.

  6. The real problem is the strict seniority system for bidding. It disincentivizes doing a good job while rewarding just hanging around forever.

  7. Whatever the most counterproductive and inept way there is to handle this, AA Mgmt will find it.

  8. It’s a who’s who game at AA where the seniors and the juniors fight it out . Spoiler alert guess who wins ? Not the junior 23 year olds who don’t understand a union contract . Face it A A the senior girls are still around. The more you mess w / us the less likely we are to retire. Our corrupt union knows who votes. It’s not the ones born after 1991 .

  9. Ahhhh…now I understand why the planes are full of Golden Girl, rude, fat-assed, skin sagging Boomers and the hotties are on the 1-2 hour legs.

  10. I was a flight attendant and yes sometimes we did offer $$ for someone to pick up a trip. You had no options but to do that. If you had a special occasion or a holiday and your Jr your not getting that day off. You have to understand at some carriers 20 yrs is still Jr. so FA would offer money to pick it up their trips. But some FA abused it and to make money. So to punished some the company can now fire anyone offering $$ or for taking money. Some FA offered money to pick up a trips because the airlines have such strict sick leave that you would pay someone to take your trip rather then call in sick and be disciplined. It was a way for FA to help each other but of course it only takes a few to run it for everyone.

  11. Robn Wade – you seem to be addressing a different issue rather than what is addressed in this post. In your post, you discuss a FA paying someone to take over a trip – but the topic is when an FA takes money from someone and then gives them the trip. In your situation the original FA is not reaping a financial benefit – in fact they are paying out money to have some assume their trip.

    I believe most European carriers do not use the seniority system for assigning flight attendants to flights.

    I don’t understand all the complexities of the process, but it seems like this would be an easy thing to fix. Instead of allowing the FA to find the replacement FA (allowing the sale process), require the FA to return the flight segment back to the pool and then implement a system to re-assign it to someone else. This would take the control out of the original FA.

  12. I’m coming from the pilot side, but I can’t understand this. The junior flight attendants are paying cash for these trips why? Because they want to post on their Insta stories that they’re in FCO instead of MCI? Sure, European layovers are great, but you still need your hours and being $200 out of pocket for every trip you’re picking up makes very little financial sense.

  13. Other workgroups at AA do the same cash for shift trades. Extra cash to work Christmas Day for example. Shift swaps with no extra pay are more common and allowed by the contract. Defining exactly what “abuse” of a perfectly legal process is per the FA contract will be tough. I doubt “patterns” are dis-allowed in the contract.

  14. In the end,The truth will always come out .
    Does anyone know anything about LTD Cigna? If you do please email me.

  15. It’s not there’s to sell. AA owns those skd not the FA. Plus not fare to some one who wants that trip

  16. The FA & PIL get a lot of incentives
    monetary & FAA also allowed them the 12 Hr crew rest & play games getting off the plane if they do not want to fly that route , they manipulate the system since everybody wraps around they fingers.
    They make money & a lot
    Compared to Customer Service Group, they get the trash & no protection from anybody as incentives pay raises & rest hours including sick calls are penalized & they did not got erased like the AA inflight group.
    It’s all about them….. not a company

  17. As a 50 year flight attendant I am so happy to be able to hold exactly what I want, seniority is what I have worked for all these years. No one is getting my trips!

  18. But but but

    The FAs are ALL model citizens, victims of management and evil customers.

    This can’t be


    Fake news.

  19. I don’t think it’s any ofAA’sbusiness. By as Ken what CEO’s, and or white collar management helped themselves too.

    How many times I have seen company vans at a local golf course or grocery.

    Again this was 15/20 year ago.

    One department was asked to stop taking a $20 to work his/her holiday shift for extra money to survive in the metropolitan areas airports are in.

    I don’t see the problem if employee is qualified/trained and shift is covered.

  20. CloClo,

    You mean Ramp Service just like Customer Service.

    Whatever just don’t refer us as rampers!!! No such word anyway…

  21. Of course it’s the Unions, the #1 enemy of a competitive enterprise, the socialist drag in the US. As much as I try to patronize US economy I find my self booking foreign carriers for international routes because of the lackluster service of unionized airlines.

  22. Simple solution. The airline should reassign when a FA can’t fly whatever route they’ve chosen. The airlines have created this problem by letting the FA pick and choose who gets their choice routes.

  23. This is ridiculous! This practice of trading trips has been going on forever and you don’t just change “past practice” over night. Also this implies that it’s about the money and it isn’t. If they just gave them away instead of selling them it would be the same complaint. AA can upgrade programs and eliminate private trading but they won’t do it.

  24. It’s done at all carriers. You can give your trip to a junior F/A if you like. Not sell it. That why the job is so flexible, everyone is happy, the giver and the taker.

  25. It’s not new at United Sr fa’s have been selling trips for years. At United they will even steal a trip out of your line. Send you an in company e-note asking if you want to drop your trip and include”,if I don’t hear from you will assume it’s fine” and send it in the middle of the night or when they know your in the air and can’t respond.
    Happened to me was deadheading fro SFO to Denver on a 5:30am flight to work a Den to Hawaii flight when I went to check in and pull up a briefing sheet my trip was gone. Check and saw a Sr mama had send me an emote at 5:45 am knowing I would be in the air.At United it was called the Sr mafia still goes on today and really no help from the union or company.

  26. This is not a problem that happens only at East Coast Bases for American Airlines.I spent almost 20 years at LAX and have witnessed some off handed funny business with open time and the PBS system.Let’s be clear, the most desirable trips are the International long haul flights.Those trips did not change hands as much under the old american system before PBS.With a simple entry in the computer you now see each position on the long haul flights change a multitude of times over and over. This is not just someone unhappy with their position they held on a Bid.A person in I.T. or computer forensics is needed to follow a trip position change history because it is confusing. What is not confusing is when someone gets the trip in open time and 12hours later it is flown by the same junior person who is doing something fishy.How does someone keep getting several International flights when they do not have the seniority to take before someone else with higher seniority from open time.I hope the company does fire those involved in this game. The senior flight attendant who allows their seniority to be used to grab trips knowingly or if they knowingly give away, sell or whatever should be fired as well. I think the company should make a rule if you pick up from open time then you fly the trip or have to call in sick.If they do not allow them to drop or trade it may possibly help stop this so easy manipulation. I could drop a few names of Flight attendants that the company should be wise to watch.They seem to change a terrible schedule into some Long Haul flying with great frequency. With very little Long Haul flying at LAX now the company could follow this problem much easier. I hope, they care more about their career, because that game to avoid fairness in picking up open time should get you on the unemployment line.

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