Revealed: American Airlines Plans To Take Gov’t Money, Won’t Bring Cabin Crew Back To Work

Government payroll support (subsidies) require airlines to pay their furloughed workers, and not to furlough any more, through March 31. Internal American Airlines documents show that most workers won’t be back to work before that meaning most will never be back to work.

The airline does not even plan for two thirds of flight attendants to work during the Payroll Support Program period, and internal documents show how they may reduce the amount of government money that have to pay out to employees – keeping more for themselves. According to the airline,

  • No furloughed American Airlines flight attendants will work before March.

    It will take months to return all furloughed flight attendants to active flying status, and we will be doing so in phases. We are prioritizing the return-to-work process, outlined below, in seniority order. The earliest return-to-flying date for anyone will be March 2, 2021.

  • Just one-third of furloughed flight attendants will actually return to work at all because of payroll support. The rest won’t be recalled for March, which means they will only be recalled at all if passenger demand grows enough to justify it, or there’s a third round of subsidies. This second round of subsidies does not return most American Airlines cabin crew to work, it just pays them.

  • Furloughed flight attendants actually have to opt into returning to work (whether American asks them to do so or not) or they won’t get paid. Simple ‘breakage’ (flight attendants not proactively opting in) will let the airline keep more of the subsidy payments the government will be giving them. Flight attendants must opt in by January 4, 2021.

    Your first step to take now, regardless of your seniority, is to notify us of your intent to return to work, elect a leave outlined below, or resign from American Airlines. …Accept return to work: Accepting return to work means you will return to flying status as soon as practicable based on your seniority, no earlier than March 2021. Our goal is to return at least 1/3rd of furloughed FAs for March.  Resign from American Airlines: Remove yourself from the recall list and permanently leave the company. This would include forfeiting the PSP pay and benefits coverage if you are asked to return to work before March 31, 2021.  You have until January 4, 2021, to notify us of your decision. Your last submission prior to the closing date will be used for processing.

    Anything that helps push American Airlines employees out the door means more of the subsidy they get to keep for themselves. And if American winds up having to hire more flight attendants to compensate, they’ll be at the bottom of the pay scale. It’s Jerry Glass’s dream.

  • American admits the money is a subsidy and merely includes recalling furloughed employees, rather than being entirely for employees.

    We are excited that Congress has reached a deal on a legislative package that includes a four-month extension of the Payroll Support Plan Program (PSP). This package, which includes much-needed funds that will help carry us through the tough winter months, allows us to recall all furloughed team members for and pay and benefits effective December 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021.

American will be bringing flight attendants back based on seniority. Earlier in the pandemic senior flight attendants stayed home and got paid, while junior flight attendants worked. Now junior flight attendants will stay home, while more senior flight attendants get recalled.

At the end of the day ‘payroll support’ is an expensive unemployment program combined with a back door way for airlines to pick taxpayer pockets. It doesn’t return most employees to work, doesn’t keep them ‘ready to fly’ as proponents argued for.

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. You *do* realize every other carrier is in the same position, right?

    At least they didn’t take government money and then hold town halls instructing folks on how to take a leave and also collect the government $600 kicker on unemployment like Delta did. Or cut hours (but not the “pay rate”) like United. Of the carriers, AA has by far been the most transparent in actually helping employees out but this guy keeps writing hit pieces specifically on them…did Doug sleep with your wife or something?

    Time to let it go and move on…

  2. “American Airlines Plans To Take Gov’t Money, Won’t Bring Cabin Crew Back To Work”, why are we surprised? And to be fair, not only American, but United and Delta probably do the same thing.

  3. I don’t understand the complaint here. The furloughed flight attendants are getting paid. And primarily because of the government assistance.

    Remember that this is the government shelling out all this cash. The government that the people voted in. Make a decision here. Either AA lays those people off and they friends for themselves or they take the cash and pay them during furlough.

    What is AA expected to do, fly them in empty planes?

    The Chinese send us the virus and we elect those that are in bed with them. Go figure?

    What a mess.

  4. Calling them back to work would mean flying unprofitable routes with load factors in the teens.

    So, basically, you are criticizing them for avoiding bankruptcy. GREAT ANALYSIS!

  5. The contract that AA FAs have lays out the process for recalls very clearly, and includes this whole “accept recall or resignation.” The process of bringing back 8000 flight attendants is a long one, which is why it will take until March to get them on the line. Whoever fed you this information is trying to start drama where there is none. You shouldn’t feed into it.

  6. @T
    of the big 4, Delta, like Southwest, did not furlough employees while American and United did

  7. Again Gary wrong !!! They will be paid by AA to stay home since we don’t have a full flying schedule yet due to a Pandemic. Signed AA/FA !!!!

  8. Please force these workers to do SOMETHING. I am appalled at the idea that they are being paid to just basically stay at home. Find other work for them in the company, set up daily online education and training sessions that would benefit the company in the future, or allow them to do volunteer work in exchange for either of those. As a taxpayer the idea that these people are sitting in their homes playing candy crush in their pajamas while we drop money on their doorstep is infuriating. Especially when so many others are suffering.

  9. @Leigh – this isn’t a union drama it is a taxpayer drama, taxpayers are forking over billions so flight attendants will ‘work’ through March 31, and instead most will be paid to stay home.

  10. @DFWTraveler – I’m not criticizing American’s operational choices, other than for misleading statements to obtain government subsidies. However adding back employees that are fully paid for, along with planes they’re already paying on, means some unprofitable routes become profitable since they basically only have to cover the cost of fuel.

  11. @Thegrench – no, not every other carrier is in the same position, really only American and United furloughed large groups of workers. Delta and Southwest didn’t furlough anyone and will receive billions of dollars in taxpayer cash apiece. Sad!

  12. What are they supposed to do. Let them sit at the airport with nowhere to go.
    Do you know how much it’s gonna cost to bring back each employee.
    They have to be drug screened again. Recertification depend on how long they have been out . That alone is most of the money. Gone from doing all that before they even return and with no use for them

  13. CORPORATE GREED at it’s finest! The wealthy and politicians get CORPORATE WELLFARE while they GIVE THE DOG A BONE to the poor and see how we fight over it!

  14. Why not just send paychecks to the employees directly from the government forever? In fact, if the government just paid every adult citizen we wouldn’t have to worry about unemployment…

  15. Gary,
    Soooo then you’re siding with the conservatives here???? I think my blood pressure just dropped. Like him or hate him, Rand Paul hit the nail on the head with most of what he said the other night. These bailouts are only kicking the can down the road just long enough for them to ask for another in April. Air travel numbers won’t return to pre covid levels until 2024. Wonder how AOC feels about all these empty airplanes flying around burning fuel just to give the crew something to do 3 months at a time?

  16. Any link to the actual “internal document”? The link doesn’t seem to be working, and it’s hard to understand context from the isolated quotes in this article.

    While it’s unfortunate that FAs will be essentially paid to stay home, this makes more sense than the alternative: adding flights between now and March that will likely have extremely low load factors and operate at enormous losses.

    Yes, AA will need to eat leasing/financing costs while their planes sit idle. But this doesn’t justify flying empty flights – even if the crew is already paid for. Think of all the costs that are incurred when a plane is operating: fuel, maintenance, insurance, just to name a few. AA has also done a fairly good job of taking this opportunity to accelerate aircraft retirements.

  17. Why do airline employees get full salary to sit at home while I get half of my working pay? Why doesn’t the government pay for everyone’s salary until March 31? I’m still waiting to hear a good reason. I’m also wondering why helping the airlines translates into paying people money to do nothing. I’m all ears.

  18. @ John Q Public – It’s very simple. The american airline industry are professional beggars and they have lobbyist in Washington who wine and dine (bribe) our law makers and sell them on the line of BS that they are so essential that they can sit at home and do nothing and still remain qualified for crew work. I don’t know if congress members get perks on the airlines when they travel such as upgrades, or club access, or VIP treatment. Maybe someone from Delta could comment on that? AA and United have no credibility so they just need to stay on their knees. Another interesting question is why didn’t Delta or Southwest furlough workers and yet United and AA did? They obviously didn’t need the money but yet they are getting the same payout as the other two. Here’s another idea, why doesn’t the american public boycott as much as possible United and AA and give that business to Delta and Southwest. Delta and Southwest can grow their market share, while United and AA shrink by the time 2024 rolls around UA and AA will be mere shadows of their former selves and Delta and Southwest will be the big dogs. Add in the foreign carriers to do domestic flights when normalcy returns and just let UA and AA disappear.

  19. The author’s comment that it’s “sad” that Delta and Southwest will receive government subsidies even though they did not furlough any employees is just plain stupid. They are receiving cash infusions to stay in business. While payroll is the highest overhead expense, there are operating expenses which require cash flow. You should do your due diligence before making personal assessments. That’s kind of sad.

  20. @MC – you’re making my point, these are straight-up airline subsidies using employee job protections as a fig leaf. And Southwest Airlines at zero risk of going out of business! “You should do your due diligence before making personal assessments.”

  21. Do I smell “bankruptcy” down the pike? More “creative” corporate financing with lobbyists abating. Capitalism at it’s finast

  22. Airline workers simply deserve this. They are MORE essential than others–so essential, in fact, that we don’t even need them working AY ALL.

    They are essentially useless, and that’s why they should be paid their FULL salaries TO SIT ON THEIR HANDS. Hope that makes sense to you all.

  23. @Tim – They are so essential that they have YouTube channels where they beg for money from their patrons and parade around in bikini’s or bending over to show cleavage. I have to say that I only have seen F/A from AA on YouTube.

    They are just professional beggars from the top to the bottom. Not all, but far too many of them are.

    Maybe if they are going to get full pay on the taxpayer’s dime they should be at the airport working 8 hour shifts each day and they have to carry the passengers luggage to their next flight or gather it from luggage claim and load it into their vehicles. After all the passengers are paying their salaries so they should do something to earn it.

  24. Make no mistake about it, these politicians are treated super specially by the airlines and it applies to all levels. When you get to the Congressional/Administration level hacks there is just no end to it. In addition to the perks mentioned they all have “special services” reps whose primary responsibility is to cater to their every wish and desire and whim. If you doubt it, just ask some poor airline employee who screwed something up in their view what the consequences were. To add further insult to injury, these worthless leaches are travelling on super low cut rate government fares.

  25. This is why the airlines begged for their subsidy money to not run out in October. It takes months to get airline employees retrained and ready for work. Most airlines had to shut down annual trainings that keep staff qualified to fly per FAA due to Covid spreading in the training facilities. So the airlines are already playing catch up with their currently active flight crew. So to throw in there they must follow protocol to give employees adequate time to reply that they are planning to return to their jobs(2 weeks), figure out how to return all their required duty items such as badges and company issued electronics(who knows how long this will take with air carriers going as slow as they are, probably at minimum an additional week or two), get all employees appointments to get new background checks/drug tests/etc, and then get them in the schedule to go to training of classes that are already smaller due to Covid new rules, and crew who are already months behind their own trainings. Bringing entire crew back is going to take 4 or more months I would assume. This money runs out March 31, and the bill isn’t even official yet so the companies aren’t going to start this process until it is. It’s literally an impossible situation. I’m flight crew and I WANT to work! But I’ve given myself the realistic expectation that I won’t get the opportunity to unless we get an extension to keep us active longer. If not, this whole process starts over as we have to reship all our duty items back to the company and anyone who couldn’t get background checked or recertified must still get in line/appointments to do so.

  26. Well don’t you look ridiculous now that AA has returned to work everyone WITH PAY AND BENEFITS whether they work or not? And the PSP2 bill isn’t signed cause your President is having a temper tantrum over losing the election?!

    Mea Culpa yet? How about a NICE STORY ON AA. Ask their staff how they are feeling on this Christmas day?

  27. @ NUNYA BUSINESS – President Trump hasn’t signed the bill because of all the pork in it. Billions for other nations. Around 22% for American’s and 78% for everything else. AA is returning everyone to work with pay and benefits with taxpayer dollars. How about AA filing for bankruptcy and getting their act together. Get rid of Parker and all the folks at the top that couldn’t run a bicycle shop profitably. AA is good for one thing. I love trading their stock, it goes up and down like a roller coaster and with a little luck you can make some nice $$$ trading it. Same for JBlue.

  28. @OneXMarine The billions in foreign subsidies were added at TRUMP’s behest. Do your research before opening your mouth. To the author, while it may appear that WN and DL don’t need the subsidies, the reality is that FA’s at DL have been working extremely reduced schedules, with many of them rotating between going on leave and working every other month, while WN sent furlough notices to flight attendants at the beginning of this month. Both were able to avoid furloughs, but definitely aren’t able to sustain paying flight attendants at their usual line allotment. I do understand the frustration with this bill though. We’re paying billions for employees to essentially do nothing. It’s also quite odd to me that airlines are getting bailed out, meanwhile the hundreds of companies who support the aviation industry aren’t, and as a result have seen massive layoffs and furloughs. As a last comment, it never ceases to amaze me the amount of kool-aid AA employees will drink with regards to their company. They will go on and on about how great AA is and how terrible other airlines are (they love taking shots at DL), all while they are sitting home furloughed due to how poorly their company is run while DL employees are still working.

  29. @ SLG – You’re so full of shit your eyes are turning brown. Congress put the bill together and sent it to Trump for signature. He’s pushing back because of all the billons for other countries and he wants more money for Americans. And just so you know I didn’t get the $1200 and I won’t get the $600 or $2000 or whatever it turns out to be. So do your research before I put my fist in your mouth!

    Second – Why do flight crews deserve to be 100% compensated during this time when somewhere between 11 – 12 million American’s are unemployed. Hotel, restaurants, gyms, etc. of which I own none of are suffering beyond believe and they don’t get much of anything. Be honest, hand a cardboard sign around your neck and get a bag to hold out to passengers and ask them for money because all the US airlines have become are professional beggars!

    When passengers start boarding planes looking at you in disgust you’ll know why. You’re just pukes who are a disgrace to this great country that you’re trying to destroy with you left wing bullshit!

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