Southwest Airlines proposed to its flight attendants union that one way to avoid a 10% pay cut (or furloughs) would be for cabin crew to pitch the airline’s co-brand credit cards inflight.
Southwest Airlines is asking flight attendants to sell credit cards during flights in exchange for a smaller pay cut as the company tries to navigate expected losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dallas-based Southwest, which told union employees earlier this month they need to take a 10% pay cut next year to avoid furloughs, could start selling products during flights, including credit cards, as a way to increase revenue and make up for the dismal number of passengers booking fares.
The credit card pitches came up during a bargaining session this week between Southwest and Transport Workers Union Local 556, representing the 15,000 flight attendants at the carrier, according to a summary of the meeting sent to union members.
When Scott Kirby left American Airlines and became President (now CEO) at United, he brought with him the knowledge that inflight credit card pitches were the most effective way to acquire customers for their lucrative co-brand. United had always avoided it because, in Scott Kirby’s telling, Chase wouldn’t pay them more to do it. Kirby knew it was win-win for the airline and the bank because it meant more people spending money on their plastic, and more miles purchased by the bank partner.
American Airlines has two co-brand card partners in the U.S., Citibank and Barclays. And the only places Barclays can acquire customers are in the airport (but not within 100 feet of an American Airlines club) and inflight. They don’t do tabling, just advertising in the airport. So the only place they actively sign up cardmembers is on planes. The inflight channel supports an entire second card partner.
So it’s always shocked me that Southwest Airlines didn’t do this. It’s not a flight attendant’s duties, in their union contract. But at American and United flight attendants earn incentives for card approvals. It’s voluntary, but many do it. (In contrast, Russia’s S7 Airlines discontinued pitching cards inflight because their cabin crew simply wouldn’t do it.)
Customers often don’t like it. It isn’t something that should be done before 8 a.m. or in the morning prior to arrival at the end of a redeye. And it’s important to keep the pitches accurate, flight attendants have been known to go off script and exaggerate what customers get. But ultimately the people most likely to take an airline’s credit card are the people who are actually already flying the airline.