Is American Airlines Pushing Out Senior Flight Attendants?

The American Airlines flight attendants union reports that more and more American Airlines have been failing their continuing qualification requirements.

Since June of this year, we have noticed a significant rise in Flight Attendants failing to pass their Continuing Qualification (CQ) training.

…Failure to pass CQ will result in an “unsatisfactory” rating from the inflight training department. This rating will automatically place you in a program known as Final Targeted Training. For clarity, during your annual CQ, you are allowed FOUR attempts to pass a drill, a task, or a scenario with a “satisfactory” rating. The first two attempts will be conducted by the same instructor, the third with a different instructor, and the fourth by an inflight training manager. If you receive an unsatisfactory rating after a fourth attempt, the training manager will release you from CQ, and your Flight Attendant qualifications will be expired.

Now, any normal union would be complaining about the company, rather than simply advising members on the process of being pushed out. They’d be railing against arbitrary decision-making. But American’s Association of Professional Flight Attendants is often derided as a company union. They never once publicly complained, for instance, when American furloughed more flight attendants than any other airline in the world during the pandemic.

And there is clearly some discretion involved in whether a flight attendant passes their continuing qualification. That’s why the third and fourth attempts are conducted with different staff. Indeed, the idea that 87 year old Bette Nash keeps passing her CQ seems suspect to me. I’ve been told she’s given significant latitude on things like arming and disarming an aircraft door.

CQ training is mandated by 14 CFR § 121.915. It entails demonstrating proficiency in areas such as,

  • Emergency Duties and Equipment
  • Drills and Demonstrations
  • Potential emergency scenarios
  • Scenarios such as decompression, turbulence, medical emergencies, security threats

Instead of complaining that flight attendants that have passed their CQ for decades are ‘suddenly’ failing in increased numbers, the union shrugs that their members can “always choose to retire.”

Any Flight Attendant who receives an unsatisfactory rating during Final Targeted Training or Special Tracking will be placed to permanent QI (Qualifications Inactive) status and ultimately released from the company. If a Flight Attendant is eligible for retirement after receiving an unsatisfactory rating, they can always choose to retire.

Failing flight attendants through this process is one of the few ways to transition unionized crew out of the company, including more senior cabin crew who earn more.

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. AA is known for having lazy, rude senior FAs on their planes. Many of them should have retired years ago.

  2. Given FA’s love to harp on the safety is my #1 job, probably should see higher levels of failure, especially for older FAs as body functions do decline with age. Of course safety is an FA’s #1 priority, but for totality of the job, service is their #1 task and they are happy to refuse improving there.

  3. @Jeffrey
    Very true, FAs inflate their egos by their claim that safety is their #1 job. That is true of almost everyone.

    When I take out the trash, my #1 job is safety in that I shouldn’t slip on a banana peel that is in the trash and could conceivably fall out.

  4. As you age, jobs that were once easy get harder to do. It is good that qualifications are checked when safety is a concern.

  5. Good! Need to get some of the top of scale dead weight that no longer cares and being in fresh younger, lower cost replacements. Works for passengers and AA so no downside.

  6. More than not, the ones I see on my flights – especially to Europe- are too old and too fat (for many) to make me feel like they would be competent to lead me down the slides to exit an aircraft or anything else that would be strenuous.

  7. @Anonymous – Passengers SHOULD prefer the flight attendant who can save their lives – age doesn’t matter.

    If an 87 year old woman can pass, why can’t other flight attendants who are younger pass. That does sound suspicious. Flight attendants are paying Union dues for what??? Go with Delta. Their flight attendants pay Zero

  8. This article seems to be written with such suspected intentions of ill intent of American Airlines. If an older or younger person cannot pass the annual tests, then that person should find something else to do. It’s not a conspiracy.

  9. There are plenty of AA flight attendants who are frustrated by older flight attendants who, somehow, pass their training. On board the aircraft they are clearly seen to be obviously useless is an actual evacuation, etc.

    The flight attendant union is likely hearing from those frustrated flight attendants.

  10. I don’t know how they can recruit people willing to do that job considering the potential of scum bag passengers. No way, I’d be fired day one.

  11. Funny, when I was a F/A with American I found that the older F/A’s were more competant, more friendly and did a much better job taking care of passengers than the younger ones. Also, having been to many more recurrent trainings than the new F/A’s, were pros during trainings. Unfortunately a lot of the new hires did not take the job seriously and were lazy. Just my observation.

  12. four chances to pass basic safety tests is beyond generous.
    Unless there is evidence of a concerted effort to fail people that were clearly doing what they were supposed to do, I don’t see a story.

    In life, it is far better to move on to the next chapter of your life before someone tells you that you have to.

  13. All companies push out senior more expensive people
    A senior more expensive person

  14. They should have a maximum age of FA and then transition older cabin crew to jobs like working the entrances to the lounge or very heavy baggage handling.

  15. This is a safety issue. Training and qualifications are not covered under a CBA. So long as the process is deemed to be fair, there is nothing a union can do. That goes for any position that requires certification including being a pilot. The best thing a flight attendant can do is remain in shape and in condition to carry out emergency procedures. I have to assume that most of this is due to poor physical condition.

  16. Company is not pushing them out…they have aged and cannot complete the physical tasks required. IMAGINE some of these 80 year olds who cannot lift a bag into the bin trying to save 300 people in a 777 during a water evacuation.

  17. The FAA, American airlines and the APFA union need to impose a retirement age of 72 for flight attendants. Be natural movement then for new hires. Flight attendant is maxed out on retirement and social security, SS, by then. Time to go. The CQ is mindless almost to complete. The online modules are a joke. Just click along. Almost half of it has nothing to do with safety, medical and security. AA just puts filler to cover the time requirements by the FAA. A joke.

  18. I’ll let you in on a well know industry secret. Passengers on the airplane cannot open the lavatory door. That’s right. 90% of the time we have to show them how to do it. I’m not joking. If you think that those same people are going to direct passengers away from a blocked/inoperable exit, operate the malfunctioning tail cone exit on the DC-9, (probably the hardest exit to operate in a malfunction), and get them out in 90 seconds, we’ll, I have a bridge to sell you, cash only. Armchair flight attendants go away.

  19. In an emergency you have only one chance to get it right. And that’s the one that counts. As Tim Dunn states, four tries are more than generous, and fair. Nothing against the the older FAs, but as they are there first for safety, if you’re not able to to perform… I’m sorry. It would be nice if they could transition to another less strenuous position, but that’s not my call.

  20. This issue has nothing to do with age. It has to do with competence and preparedness. There is no hidden agenda here other than telling the flight attendants to show up prepared. Know your procedures for evacuating a plane and know how to arm and disarm a door. If you do that, you don’t have anything to worry about.

  21. It’s not about age I am 43 been there since 23. AA management hates us if u are at the top of pay watch out!

  22. Age has little to do with performance, with a few exceptions.
    These comments, by and large, are discriminating and absurd.
    The young flight attendants that I have seen seem to want to be on social media more than do their jobs.

  23. If cockpit crew or flight attendants can not get out the cockpit window they should be released or retired. Safety is the issue!

  24. As a frequent AA flyer and parent of a female AA cabin crew, I must say those “senior mama’s” definitely have a reputation amongst the younger crew members…..I’ve seen some that have to turn sideways to make it thru the middle aisle of a narrow body aircraft.

  25. Experience is useful in some situations. That is why older people sometimes handle customers better. That is why the best surgeon has been in practice a few years.

    On the other hand, some people’s brains really calcify. Maybe it’s too much drinking? That means that some old people can’t remember. Can’t remember an emergency procedure or something like that.

    FA’s salaries should not go up with longevity. They should go up somewhat then plateau. Maybe even go down if they stay too long and become bad workers.

  26. Irrelevant of any particular opinion of the ability of senior flight attendants within this story, I find it really outrageous and defamatory that this author names Ms. Betty Nash as an example of what is possibly wrong with the requalification of flight attendants. She was my lead flight attendant on several of my flights, though many years ago, a real professional. The author should apologize in this thread for insinuating otherwise without something more than “I’ve been told…” It is up to AA, not you Gary, to carry the liability for her recertification. Further, arming and disarming a door on say the Airbus takes far less effort than pushing a loaded beverage cart up and down the aisle. When opening the door in an emergency there is a gas assist and you don’t need a linebacker to do it. Sorry if any reader prefers younger flight attendants, but from a safety standpoint, on every international flight on which I commanded, I was comforted when working with flight attendants who had far more crossings than I had. Having done an oceanic emergency return, I’ll take a senior flight attendant any day.

  27. I am a former CQ AQP, 121 instructor, age has nothing to do with this at all, however you do have to keep yourself and your mind in shape as a first responder. There was a reason for height and weight requirements years ago. I have been flying 32 years, I’m trim, workout and study even when I go to Requal. I have found FA’s who do not study, do nothing towards their health and physical ability to do the job. This is from years of the companies hiring anyone with a pulse and not the best of the best, like years ago. Many young girls are very large and walk sideways or become winded, again age has nothing to do with this. Physical requirements are needed as well as strict quidelines for passing FA’s like years ago when I started under the 121 system. Under the current guidelines set forth from every reactionary group in the world we now have what we have. We need to pick those with the physical readiness like a 1st responder and the disciplined mindset as well, that’s safety and that’s how hard it was well over 15, 20, to 32 years ago

  28. You people crack me up . You don’t know what you’re talking about ! The nasty comments on here are people who are just miserable in their own life

  29. All Flight Attendants make the same amount once you go into your 13th year. So money issue is a wash for senior F/A’s. Stirring the pot doesn’t make our job any easier! There are nasty, mean people in ALL jobs. I will agree that if you can’t pass your CQ training you should retire. However, I would also like to point out that very few pax pay attention to the safety demo.

  30. COSTCO I must say that many younger flight attendants also “have to turn sideways to fit down the middle aisle”. They, as well, have quite the reputation amongst “senior mamas” for being lazy…… I’ve worked with both.

  31. SMR…..Flight Attendants are not here to lift YOUR bag into the bin! It’s your bag,that’s YOUR job!!

  32. Let’s not forget (oh you already have or didn’t know to begin with) that it was two senior Flight Attendants (one overweight for you complaining about the heavier ones) that jumped Richard Reed( aka The Shoe guy) lighting a match to his tennis shoes. He bit the heavier one and she slapped and punched the s—t out of him. The other Flight Attendant was a French woman in her late 60’s who you do not mess with on a good day. The operative phrase is mess with. In normal operations perfectly professional. I know them both. Also let’s not forget Betty Ong ( oh you already have) who despite her life about to end grabbed the Air Phone (no cell phones) took it into the Lav (bathroom) and described the men commandeering the aircraft and what seat numbers they were in by memory. What an unprofessional. I enjoyed a 35 year career at AA, am not “old” but chose to leave to pursue other interests. American has about 28,000 F/As so Delta and United have about the same, plus all of the other thousands in this country. We have bad eggs like EVERYWHERE else and I’m sure there are some wherever you go and whatever you do,but I will say most Flight Attendants are some of the nicest people you could want to meet. But safety first, and if the dreaded cell phone or seatbelt announcement comes over and you don’t comply I HAVE TO TELL YOU BECAUSE IF THE FAA IS ONBOARD AND WE DONT WE CAN BE FINED UP TO $10,000. If you don’t do it after that, I am covered. If you won’t fasten your seatbelt I don’t care. But no customer is on my Christmas list because of their stupidy.

  33. 90% of passengers can’t open a. lav door by themselves?
    Where is our school system?
    We need mandatory classes on opening lav doors.
    followed by toilet flushing 101.

  34. It should be the same for pilos who are overweight and can have and heart attack in the cockpit. Their medical exam is a joke

  35. How about the same Heath and age requirements for being the leader of the free world. The man in charge of the most powerful military on the planet is 80 yrs old right now and running for reelection.. same with half of our senators and congressmen. Let’s be easy on grandma just because she loves flying and has no health insurance if she retires. She’s harmless, and I guarantee she will save your life is you are having a heart attack on a plane

  36. @Herby K – agree about Biden and other 80+ leaders – should all be forced to retire.

    BTW why would a flight attendant want to work past 65 (or even be able to)? You mention no health insurance but Medicare (I’m on it after a long IT career) is pretty good and cheap.

  37. Two things:
    @Maria is 100% on point- Union influence has crushed the overall service quality on US Airlines.

    AA is garbage. They have ruined their last flight for me and that was pre-pandemic. I lived for years in a resort area serviced only by AA & Delta and a few random routes by Spirit & Allegiant. For a while I would price shop, and consistently Delta was 25-40% higher cost for the same trip, and even then I would almost always take Delta. But as the quality of the soft product and service tanked, I eventually completely dropped AA from all consideration, preferring the higher premium for Delta flights over the shockingly bad experiences that were the norm on AA.

    I will say however, as an avid points flyer, I never redeem points for flights on Delta metal. It’s clear they don’t want the award business and that’s fine as there are many SkyTeam options as almost all of my travel these days is international.

    The fact that AA can even survive as a going concern is sadly just a reflection of how shockingly the US domestic airline experience has declined over the last 20 years.

  38. The very reason FAs attend re-qualification EVERY year is to ensure they are capable of handling ALL safety-related systems onboard: exit doors & windows, safety equipment, etc. and procedures which go beyond everyday service protocols which INCLUDE safety under it all. Their primary job is to save your @$$ not kiss it. If passengers are so knowledgeable about safety, why is the safety video repeated on EVERY flight? Why do FAs question those seated in exit rows, too? Why are there so many confrontations onboard with “customers” who now defy safety & security requirements which haven’t changed in 20+ years??

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