No Strike Yet: American Airlines Flight Attendants Reveal Details From D.C. Negotiations

If a deal wasn’t reached between American Airlines and its cabin crew this week, flight attendants said they were going to be allowed to strike. The week ended without a deal, but they aren’t being released from negotiations. What happened?

  • American Airlines and its flight attendants union were in Washington, D.C. this week for what the Association of Professional Flight Attendants described as ‘last ditch’ talks before a strike.
  • Leaks from the National Mediation Board suggested that if a deal wasn’t reached by early June, flight attendants would be released to strike.
  • However the week’s negotiations ended, there is no deal – and no declared impasse by the National Mediation Board which would start a 30 day ‘cooling off period’ after which the parties would be permitted ‘self-help’.

The union is dishing on the state of play, despite National Mediation Board insistence that the parties not discuss what’s happening in mediation sessions. There’s a gag order in place that seems to be more honored by the union in the breach than by observance. According to the union,

  • Talks began this week with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su present. The Biden administration monitored talks throughout the week.

    A strike by a major airline has both economic and political significance. In a close Presidential contest, it could even tip the result. Union support is crucial in battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin. American Airlines operates hubs in battleground states like Pennsylvania and Arizona.

  • “[W]e made progress on certain important economic items, but are still apart on the final key economic areas of agreement.”

    American increased its offer. That means there isn’t yet an impasse, since the parties are making progress. The union does not say they are far apart, either. Language here is intentional.

  • “The NMB will continue mediation next week. We will either reach a tentative agreement, or the NMB will consider issuing a proffer of arbitration and a release into a thirty-day cooling-off period.”

    The NMB will of course consider its options at the end of the week. They have considered whether to declare an impasse, triggering a cooling off period, since flight attendants requested this in the fall.

It’s encouraging that progress towards a contract seems to have been made this week. American Airlines flight attendants need a new contract, not having seen a raise since January 2019.

However they turned down an immediate 17% increase that would have paid them more while negotiations continued. The fact that negotiations would have started from there suggests American was always going to up its offer this week in any case.

A strike would be costly to flight attendants – but the benefits of whatever contract improvements they achieve will be felt by cabin crew at United and Alaska which are currently in protracted negotiations.

That’s why the AFA-CWA, which represents United and Alaska flight attendants (but not cabin crew at American) has lent their negotiator Joe Burns to American’s negotiations and lent their political muscle to pave the way for a walkout.

Hopefully next week a deal will happen, or at least enough progress will be made that negotiations continue – so that flight attendants can benefit from a new agreement without the pain of a strike; so that customers can rely on their booked air travel (any strike would drive up fares on other carriers); and so that the company can return focus to serving passengers.

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. The FAs deserve a raise, need a raise. APFA failed to take the 17% and improved profit sharing. APFA is a mess. They’d rather Karen it up with the company than help the membership.

    Lot of egos running APFA, at the detriment of the FAs.

  2. I wonder if the government is trying to figure a way to subsidize American Airlines so that an amended contract pays more to flight attendants than what has been discussed before, sort of like paying down student loans to secure election votes.

  3. AFA = muscle? That’s hilarious! The flight attendants at United haven’t had deal in forever.
    Sara “I care more about Starbucks workers” Nelson is a lightweight when compared to TWU.
    All AFA wants is to swallow APFA up!

  4. As a neutral bystander, high school varsity umpire, and business guy, there has to be common ground based on data. Cool heads will prevail and if neither side gets exactly want they want, it’s a fair deal.

  5. There’s a reasonable chance the union gets released into their 30-day cooling off period within the next couple of weeks.

    I’d expect then in the last 72 hours before the 30 days are up AA will provide it’s best and final offer.

    “Real Housewife’s of DFW” style drama…a deal will be done…but not until the real end zone is near.

  6. Whether the FAs get a good deal or not it really doesn’t make any difference to the flying public because American Airlines FAs will continue to give terrible service and will keep treating their passengers like crap. Maybe this time they will spend less time in the rear galley doing nothing and start treating the passengers like Delta’s FAs do with kindness, respect and professionalism. Oh, and with a smile on their faces.

  7. Being a flight attendant with AA (legacy) and a member APFA, I ask everyone to investigate Joe Burns. He’s working with AFA and now getting paid by APFA and leading them down a very dangerous path. He really has no skin in the game and the gamble he’s making could prove more disastrous than profitable for the membership. Use your minds and don’t let emotions control the process. How much is Joe Burns making on the APFA membership? Ask, before you allow him to make ill advised decisions for you.

  8. Finals the weorking class showing the power of union.
    These corporations and CEOs are banking in bonuses and profit while their employees are eligible for food stamps. Without them there is mo operations.

    Tbey deserve better and likely will put AA CEO in deep waters.

    It looks like Southwest is the only Airline who respect their employees!!! We stand with AA flight attendants, We stand with the working class!

  9. @ Pilot93434

    The FAs themselves clearly did not want to accept this deal for reasons you are obviously not in touch with. The FAs drive the union response. APFA did not make a mistake.

  10. I don”t understand why the Flight Attendants did not accept the 17% increase with “no strings attached”. This would not only help the membership in case of a strike but also be a new starting point (as a given) for even higher wage increases.

  11. The FA’s did not accept 17% for good reason. 17% is not ONLY about the hourly rate the FA’s are going to be paid. It also included a bigger piece of the profit sharing pie. The problem is that AA isn’t anywhere near as profitable as DL or UA. Profit sharing is great when times are good but terrible when times are bad. Meanwhile, management is paid handsomely either way and often gets a golden parachute when they are fired or bail out. Other sticking points are scheduling concessions demanded by management and a refusal to include retroactive pay in this deal. There is wiggle room here but there’s a lot of real estate to cover from $0 to $230,000,000 which pilots were paid. I think the deal is within reach but we’ll see.

  12. The Republican and Democratic National conventions are just around the corner.
    AA alienated business PAX and needs them back ASAP.
    Also, this is expected to be the largest summer travel peak in years.
    PAX will move to the legacy and LCC carriers during a strike.

    Should the FA’s strike, senior leadership will look bad and pressure will build on the BOD.
    Don’t let the opportunity pass, start the strike now!!!

  13. DJ,
    your post stinks of class envy – of pilots and management – and THAT is why the FAs are deadlocked.

    When you grasp the concept that FAs are a different work group and should be paid based on what companies are willing to FAs, you might see some progress in getting a contract.

    Folks in Washington can whine all they want about unsettled airline labor contracts but those companies all managed to fall into line for other workgroups. You should be asking why the most union-hardened airlines are all resisting increasing pay by the same amount for FAs.

  14. As someone who is onboard more AA flights than I care to be, I couldn’t care less about the flight attendants. They’re overpaid as it is for what they currently do…..or rather DON’T do. There’s a reason that there is a difference when flying with foreign carriers or even DL and UA. AA flight attendants are lazy and indifferent. If someone does a poor job for you, do you reward them with MORE money? No you don’t.
    If AA flight attendants even pretended to care about my experience when I fly on them then sure I’d lend them my support but as of now (and really the last 5 or so years) they don’t deserve it.
    Strike. Quit. Get fired. I don’t care. Even if they get EVERYTHING that they want,
    it will only embolden the slugs. Don’t expect some miraculous shift in service. They’ll just be paid more money to ignore you and play games on their phones. Luckily, I have other options and the resources to get where I’m going even if it means an extra connection or two.

  15. I made a similar comment earlier, but if AA offered the 17% retroactive to June 1st as part of contract negotiations, then this puts retroactive pay on the table, with only the amount and duration of retroactive pay to be negotiated. AA may be set on 17%, but may be more flexible on the date. This doesn’t mean that the contract will be limited to 17% going forward, but perhaps limited to that going backwards. Does this mean that crew will have to repay previous SNAP payments if they were eligible? I would hope the Union keeps that on mind during the negotiations and how the retroactive pay raise is classified, probably as a signing bonus instead of retroactive pay.

  16. I’ve been an FA at Delta for 13 years and love my job. Not once have I felt underpaid. We receive regular annual raises and random inflation % raises. We get generous profit sharing, 9% 401k match, $2400 annual family HSA contributions, 80% company paid healthcare, boarding pay, free flights, savings account contributions and even paid education expenses for the whole family. You know what I don’t have to pay? Union dues.

  17. The fact that that nitwit supposed Sec. of Transportation is grandstanding, is a sign these are going nowhere fast. I’d love to see a transcript of his “inputs.” More babbling and nonsense.

  18. Being a flight attendant requires the same skills as being a Walmart greeter. And the purpose they serve is a bit archaic. The on-board safety presentation can be adequately handled via video. Passengers on flights 3 hours or less can be provided bottled water at boarding. These days, meals are rarely served. Blankets and pillows are no longer available. Nobody is cleaning the plane between flights. If Greyhound Bus can transport passengers without having a bus attendant on board, then flights can, also.

    I am SICK of American delaying flights because they’re waiting on the Flight Attendants to show up. It happened to me twice this year. The airline could do itself a world of good by evaluating what the ACTUAL needs are. If the attendants want more money, then they should be expected to provide duties that the airline actually NEEDS. Watching these flight attendants make $60, $70, $80, $90/hr when a good portion of that time is just spent riding along with the rest of us and surfing the web… it’s truly a waste. The whole airline industry needs to transform. The flight attendants do NOT perform a $90/hr service.

  19. Steve Wheeler, it was Sara Nelson who helped get gov’t aid for the airline industry during COVID19. Read or listen to “Crash Landing” by Liz Hoffman.

  20. Lindy;
    I feel your pain. I had a Horizon Air flight that almost didn’t happen without a backup FA and an Alaska Airlines flight in February delayed in Juneau waiting for a backup FA because the primary one got cooked by a coffee machine.
    But here is a list of what FA duties actually are from The Airline Academy:
    • Greet and welcome passengers when they board and exit the plane
    • Guide the passengers to their seats
    • Provide refreshments and meals
    • Meeting sales goals for duty-free goods
    • Regularly check up on the emergency equipment, and disseminate safety information
    • Dealing with emergencies and administering first aid (if needed)
    • Managing dozens if not several hundred passengers
    • Create flight reports after the flight
    I would be careful about fight attendant bashing. We read here on this very blog reports of flight attendants having to step up.

  21. @Joe
    Every once in a while the kid at the counter at McDonald’s “steps up” and saves a choking customer. Do I think that McDonald’s employees should be paid $60/$70/$80 per hour? No, I don’t.

  22. To Chris who says “Is onboard AA more than I care to be. I couldn’t care less about the Flight Attendants” so if I needed CPR or help would you not help me? I would help you regardless of what you think about my profession as a flight attendant of 39yrs because that is who I am. I treat my customers as I want to be treated and my customers respect me. It disappoints me as I read some of the posts here that some show disrespect for the Flight Attendants that actually try to provide good service. Do you have a mirror? Maybe we are not the ones that are indifferent. Always recognize good Flight Attendants but not before you recognize yourself.

  23. To Lindy “Being a Flight Attendant requires the same skills as being a Walmart greeter”. Walmart does not fall under the guidelines of the FAA and last time I checked neither does Greyhound. Lindy if your waiting on flight attendants to show up chances are they are coming from another flight, crew rest, somebody got sick etc sorry that happen to you but I am sure there is a pretty good reason. When you say you have a hard time with Flight Attendants making 60, 70, 80, 90hr when a good portion of that time is just spent riding along with the rest of us and surfing the web. You call that that a waste of time. I am a Flight Attendant of 39 yrs and what you may not realize when you assume we are surfing the web that we may be checking radar for possible turbulence and if turbulence how much time remaining of the flight remaining to serve all customers, arrival gate, connections, etc all while monitoring passenger needs.
    There are a lot of Flight Attendants out there that do an incredible job on taking care of our customers needs because that is who we are… Professional, positive attitude etc. I hope that I never see some of the scenarios that I have been trained for but you can rest assured I will take care of you as my passenger.

  24. Yeah…..I was on a flight last week where all four of them were “checking the radar”……for 3 hours.

  25. @Chris, Show us on the doll where the flight attendant hurt you? People who bash other people are just people who are miserable in their own lives.

    Licensed Psychiatrist. LCDC.

  26. @Tim
    Have a doll fetish do you? Not the strangest one I’ve heard of but it’s up there.

  27. FA’s are a dime a dozen which come with no flight skills. The airline trains them. No degree required. 5-6 weeks training. Hairdressers require infinite amount more training. Many of arguments laid out here are weak. They are on due to FAA requirements. Really nothing more except maybe for first class service. My 13 year old is cpr certified and I’d say very few flights don’t have someone that is. Most medical can be done without their assistance except notifying pilots. The problem with American flight attendants is their horrible work ethic, being on their phone, checking for turbulence, lol!!! just ask the captain instead of looking unprofessional. Sure they brief that prior to flight or during if there’s gonna be an issue What are you doing the rest of time on phone? Watching movies, instagram, etc. wearing unprofessional tattoos, piercings, and political slogans. The reason delta and southwest got better contracts is because they provide a better experience. If you don’t like the pay go to the other airline or find another line of work. It’s not like pay wasn’t known prior to getting hired. Want more money be the pilot.

    With that said they should be given a raise to keep up with the crazy inflation last 5 years and going forward for sure. Retro pay is very rare with any contract but I’d support a signing bonus. It’s all for nothing though. Americans management is going to put the company in bankruptcy and all contracts will be wiped out.

    Son of a 40 year FA, frequent flyer

  28. I fly often, Got to say the AFA are not my favorite. If you are not treated well at your work place find another place to work. Dont take your frustration out on the passengers.. Also I will not be booking any future flights as long as this is going on.Never was my favorite airline. You get what you pay for.

  29. The APFA is joke. As an AA customer, I hope they get voted out by their members after this whole thing. If the Union doesn’t make a deal this month: LOCK THEM OUT.

  30. I have trouble feeling sorry for those wanting retro pay as part of a contract. I haven’t had a pay increase on my pension in 7 years while inflation has gone through the roof. We have quit flying or traveling to places we can’t drive. Airline service has gone the toliet and all the fees have become ridiculous. The under 35 crowd thinks they are entitled to everything. It’s time people work hard and provide top service then they will have an argument for a raise.

  31. Al, I’ve been flying for over 40 years. I haven’t had a raise in 5 yrs and almost 4 months. When I retire and take my pension I will get a COLA in my soc sec check but like you, not on my pension. It will stay the same as the day I choose to take it. Fortunately my husband gets a COLA in his soc sec check and on his pensions. I sympathize with you on not getting a COLA on your pension during these last 7 years. Inflation has been terrible.

  32. What the company is offering is an insult! FAs work hard and deserve so much more.

  33. @Tim Dunn because Flight Attendants make up the largest work group for airlines. There are more of us required per flight. And the FAA could care less about service. It never fails to amaze me the lack of logic. If FAs are so worthless and unimportant, why are we not allowed to strike due to the effects to the economy? We sound quite powerful to me? Yes, pilots require more training, but they need more of us. Largest work group. Would take years to train new and we run out of reserves most days. They need us. Go ahead….lock us out. Bet;)

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