If American Airlines Doesn’t Strike A Deal By Early June, Flight Attendants Will Be Released To Strike

American Airlines flight attendants haven’t had a raise since 2019, when their contract became amendable. First delayed by the pandemic, negotiations on a new deal have been protracted, while the value of their wages have eroded. Some new crewmembers are even eligible for food stamps.

Flight Attendants voted to authorize a strike with nearly 99.5% casting a ballot in favor back in August. The union asked the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse in the fall, hoping to be allowed to strike over the peak Christmas holiday. This was denied. Subsequent requests haven’t received a formal answer.

Now we’re about to see a lot of movement.

  • The Biden administration is pushing to get a deal done. The President has appointed a majority of the National Mediation Board. On the one hand he needs union support for re-election. On the other hand a strike will hurt him politically, and also hurt the economy (which will further hurt him politically). He has the power to halt a strike.

  • The airline and flight attendants are closer to a deal than ever. American has increased its economic offer. The union, whose officers have been securely re-elected, have softened their rhetoric.

  • The parties are negotiating in D.C. this month, and have reportedly been told that if they do not get a deal done by early June the National Mediation Board will declare an impasse and release the parties to ‘self-help’.

    The board has issued an unusual ultimatum to American and to Gate Gourmet, a major airline caterer that is negotiating with its own union workers, one person briefed on the discussions said. NMB has specifically warned the companies that they could be released from mediation if the two sides don’t come to a deal around the beginning of June, the person said.

If the National Mediation Board declares an impasse in early June, that would start the clock on a 30-day “cooling off period.” The earliest flight attendants would be able to strike is early July. My bet is waiting a few days after the end of the month’s negotiation sessions conclude, if there’s no deal, allows the Biden administration to avoid disruptions over the Fourth of July holiday.

The union has talked with members not about a full-scale strike, but targeting specific flights which could change day-by-day. That way the vast majority of flight attendants could continue earning their pay, while still inflicting damage on the airline (whose customers wouldn’t know whether their flights would operate or not). The union doesn’t have the cash reserves to fund a full strike and union members lack the resources to be out of work without pay. Here’s what that kind of strike looks like.

Negotiations will take place Thursday and Friday of this week, and next Tuesday through Friday.

  • American has framed their offer as ‘matching’ the best pay in the industry, not exceeding it. They have focused on Delta pay, not the latest Southwest contract. It’s messy comparing different airline pay systems, and under certain conditions Delta still pays more. Regardless, even adopting Delta’s pay structure ‘plus 1%’ would mean paying flight attendants less than Delta because Delta’s profits are larger and so their profit sharing will be greater.

  • Flight attendants want retro pay, applying increases to the four and a half years since their last raise. Southwest flight attendants surprisingly got similar retro pay. American resists this.

  • Other areas of difference remain, such as increases to per diem payments while flight attendants are on trips.

There’s a deal to be had that matches the best pay in the industry plus some amount and that offers some form of signing bonus whether or not it’s full retro pay. We’re entering the zone of possible agreement, and the National Mediation Board is ratcheting up the pressure on American by setting a deadline at which point they’d be permitted to strike.

President Biden would have a hard time ordering the union not to strike as President Clinton did to American Airlines pilots in 1997. He also pressured American Airlines flight attendants and the airline to agree to binding arbitration, to end a strike, in 1993.

American Airlines board member Doug Steenland knows how to play hardball with labor though with knowledge that a strike could be coming for over a year American doesn’t appear to have made plans to replace cabin crew like British Airways did in 2010.

There’s a good chance that a deal could be close, and the current tough talk from the National Mediation Board doesn’t just exert leverage to get something done it also signals solidarity with labor and an opportunity to claim credit for forestalling a strike – which probably couldn’t be delayed past the election and is better for electoral politics to risk now than in October in any case.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. American’s institutional investors might be aware that there is the likelihood that AA will have to shell out a whole lot more money on labor costs; the stock was down over 3% today for the biggest decliner among US airline stocks.

  2. AA flight attendants did go on strike in 1993. While on strike, the Clinton administration got management and the union to agree to binding arbitration.

  3. A few crew “striking” per day is not a strike, that’s just not showing up for work. Terminate all who don’t show up. If they keep doing it, lock out the union, you will have 10k eager and willing applicants in the first week. Oh that FA stuff is so hard, what, maybe 2 weeks training? Face it FAs, you’re unskilled labor, so you deserve no more than unskilled labor wages.

  4. Mantis…..let walk past you if you have a heart attack on an aircraft. Wait until skilled EMTs show up after landing. Which will be too late. Sounds like some flight attendant burned you….probably deserved it too

  5. @Mantis, AA couldn’t train 10k flight attendants in 2 weeks. They’d maybe be able to train 1k per month.
    And my money says a strike won’t happen.

  6. @Mantis,
    Them not showing up to work is part of the strike. The flight attendants would have went on a strike years ago but they didn’t because its illegal. Please put in the time and research more before you post your ignorant comment.


  8. Mantis….there’s not a line of people lining up to make such low wages. And the # of people who could pass both a drug and criminal background check makes the pool even smaller.

  9. I went on strike and 1993. The union called on an 11 day strike.
    The reason it was 11 days was that they were trying to train replacements in eight days. Many members of management complained that there was no way they were learning anything during the long hours of training and they would not be properly qualified. Immediately The FAA extended the training after their observers realized that the management/scabs were Not meeting the necessary standards.
    I worked as a recruiter and an instructor of new hires. I know what the requirements are and the FAA is always watching you. The union was smart to college general strike for 11 days.
    Also, by law, the union can strike certain flights on certain days. As long as the president of the union notifies the chief negotiator of the companies negotiating team that this morning we will be striking the following 25 flights legal.
    But if the company wants to lock out flight attendants as you suggested every single flight attendant, all 29 or 30,000 of them will not be allowed to come to work by law the company cannot pick and choose.
    Then what have you done you have shut down the largest airline in the entire world.
    I am so happy to have been retired for the last 10 1/2 years.
    I think they should go one strike. But I want my retirement check to continue to come on the first banking day of every month.
    I wish the flight attendants, the very best, You deserve retro pay you deserve. Huge pay increases.
    And everything else on your wish list.

  10. @all you lazy FA apologists

    Hit a nerve huh? Because you know it’s true. US FAs, especially at AA, are the worst in the world, they are terrible at a job that literally anyone who can walk and chew gum could do, but they want more money than engineers, nurses, police, etc.? What a sick joke. Lock out the lazy union, short term pain, long term gain. You’ll get thousands of new hires within weeks that will do the job with a smile on their face, not the traditional AA disinterested scowl.

  11. @Mantis who TF are you. You must have applied to be a FA and got turned down. you’re a joke dude

  12. I sure hope we don’t reward the APFA behavior of stalling Over and over and over for years, paying them retroactively. Unions are the worst and people like Julie are just paid to never be satisfied and always be demanding more

  13. @ mantis.
    Regardless of what you may think a FA is worth, the majors have paid a higher salary/wages for the employees who work on the aircraft. Your comments are the sad example of corporatism and its greed. You would have people who have worked decades at these industry pay scales have a reduced quality of life, even lose their incomes, just to improve the corporation’s bottom line. And in this case, ignore that SW, DL, UA would continue to pay industry-leading incomes and benefits.
    What you also don’t understand is that FAs, like pilots, are paid for actual hours flown. All the other hours they are at the airport prepping, boarding, waiting for the next flight, etc are not paid.
    It’s not unusual to be “on duty” 10-12 hours and be paid five hours. That necessitates the higher hourly rate that upsets you. When you have new-hires qualifying for food stamps and you stating they are overpaid. You’re the problem, not the solution.

  14. Standing waiting to deplane an AA flight…I agree % with Mantis. LOCK THEM OUT. There should be a wage cut not an increase.

  15. I support the flight attendants. I’ve always had a great experience with AA FAs. It’s illegal to fire the FAs if they are cleared to strike. Maybe read up on labor laws.

  16. In a free society, any worker who refused to show up for work and perform their job duties would be fired. If the employer possessed the same rights as the employees, all of these labor impasses would be solved in short order.

  17. C’mon man. This is a bunch of malarkey. It’s all about a three letter word JOBS! J…O…B..S. Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black. Gonna putchall back in chains! I rode American Airlines everyday from Delaware, crossing the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. That’s not a joke man. I even remember the pilots name, Captain Wright. I would sniff the hair of the TSA agent as they rubbed my hairy legs. You know poor kids are just as smart as white kids. All men were created equal…you know…the thing. I had an uncle, uncle Ambrose Finnegan who was in a plane crash. Cannibals ate him. No joke. I traveled 17,000 miles with Xi. I was out at the Tibetan plateau. I only received 2,200 AAdvantage miles for the trip. Kind of like those shrinking bags of chips. Talk about Shrinkflation man.

    I gotta go. It’s starting to smell real bad in here. I think I need a change again. Fly Delta for an unparalleled, elite travel experience. Peace out bitches. God save the queen!

  18. This will get settled without a strike. American will lose more in the long run should the flight attendants be released to go on strike. AA needs to wake up and pay retroactive wages ( as Southwest did) or a large sign on bonus.

  19. @ mantis Flight attendants do not make a lot of money. My first year I made $27,00 prior to being taxed $22,000 after taxes. I lived in an apartment in a bunk bed with 15 other flight attendants and worked a lot. I missed weddings, every single holiday, birthdays you name it. My first Christmas on the job I had a medical emergency on board and almost had a passenger die in my arms and then I had to stay in a hotel by myself away from family and friends. I cried myself to sleep. I don’t think we are asking too much in asking for livable wages when we have flight attendants living in airports and their cars because $1,833.33 a month take home before health insurance is taken out $200 and union dues $40 does not pay rent in New York City, Boston, Miami, LA. Some people at American Airlines are making too much and that is our CEO who makes 31.4 million dollars a year. He makes our salary in two hours of his day. Many duty days at American are 14 hour duty days- we only get paid for when the boarding door is closed. We aren’t compensated for delays, boarding, deplaning, time going through customs, catering, cleaning. So on average I’m paid for 5 hours and I work 14 hours – at $30 x 5 hours credit that’s $150 a day. 150 (dollars a day) divided by 14 (hours worked) is $10 an hour. Thats not even minimum wage. Dont forget that when you go to training it’s 6 weeks unpaid training and you are expected to move to whatever city you are based in. Two months of going without pay and required to move to the most junior bases – again New York, dc, Miami, Boston, etc. and then you go about a month and then you get an $800 pay check because that’s how much your pay check is. WE DESERVE BETTER! I’m happy to break down anything further because clearly you are misinformed that you think we make a lot of money. A vast majority of my colleagues have gone in debt working this job. We are asking for a fair contract. When a nurse clocks in she’s paid for the entire shift not just the hours she’s with a patient.

  20. Observation:

    Lots of people on this site have a million and one criticisms of company leadership at US carriers.

    “They’re cheapskates/bean counters. The seats are too narrow. The leg room is insufficient. The tray table is too small. The food is awful. The delays are too frequent. The cancelations too often. Bags are lost/damaged too commonly. The check-in process is unreliable. The website is unintuitive. The marketing is deceptive/tone-deaf. Their lawyers are sleazy.” And on and on.

    Clearly most people on this site are more than capable of recognizing that a lot of airlines are poorly managed and that a lot of/most of the operational issues and poor customer experiences can be attributed to corrupt or inept leadership.

    So why, specifically, on the issue of settling a new FA contract, does everything suddenly become solely the union’s fault? Even conceding that poor union leadership arguably contributed to dragged-out negotiations, why is all the blame thrown at the employees when, on every other issue, the company leadership/culture is recognized as a problem? Suddenly, the executives and board members making millions every year are hapless victims held hostage by the greedy and corrupt front-line employees making $60k while being expected/required to live in the most expensive cities in the country. What kind of sense does that make?

  21. I wish AA would just tell them that they can’t afford to pay them or they’ll be in bankruptcy. That’s why AA is paying off debt to get the interest down. Give them a few years and maybe they’ll be in better financial position. Right now AA is in bad debt and they know it and that’s why they’re focused on that right now. They spent all of that money on the pilots.

  22. @/mantis… you are the typical corporate bootlicker in the comments. Imagine you’re flying with us and you have a heart attack. We will just casually walk past you and you will just deal with whatever happens. Put yourself in our shoes and then say that. Because until you do that, you have absolutely no say in any matters we deal with.

    PS. Training 10k flight attendants in a matter of 3 weeks? Yeah right. Think outside the box before making such ignorant comments.

  23. What’s the lastest with Alaska Airlines? …10 years since new contract!

  24. Yeah, we just got an email from the union today saying don’t believe Gary Leff’s article, because that’s not how the NMB works. Your article about concessions is inaccurate too.

  25. @Bizarro – What I wrote it literally straight from the union so…

    As far as what the National Mediation Board has said, that’s cited to Mary Schlangenstein at Bloomberg.

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