Union Demands United Airlines Pay Flight Attendants When They Aren’t Flying

Traditionally, airlines pay their flight attendant for their time from push back to arrival. They make more money for flight time, and don’t get paid for time boarding the aircraft.

  • That seems unfair – flight attendants are working when passengers are boarding!

  • But this is what unions negotiate. It’s historically what they’ve wanted. That’s because it benefits senior crew at the expense of junior crew. Senior flight attendants work fewer, longer flights on average so they spend more time in the air and less time boarding planes.

  • This preference has changed. Non-union Delta Air Lines and SkyWest added boarding pay. At Delta this was in addition to already industry-leading compensation.

Now flight attendant unions want boarding pay, too. At Spirit Airlines they did a deal without it. But American Airlines has offered their flight attendants boarding pay and to match Delta pay formulas, something that its union now rejects as insufficient.

United’s flight attendants union – the same union that downplayed boarding pay at Spirit – wants to one-up Delta, American, and SkyWest.

  • They want boarding pay like Delta, and like what’s been offered at American (50% pay)
  • But they also want “Ground Time Pay” (50% pay)

United’s flight attendant union wants its members to be paid for time spent on the airport on the ground. That’s pay from the time they check in at the airport to the time their flight pushes back, and also time spent connecting between flights. Basically, clock in to clock out.

This is a reasonable way to pay. It accounts for all time ‘on the clock’. But the transition isn’t one that its members are actually going to swallow.

  • When the airline gives them boarding pay it means they aren’t getting as much of an increase in flight pay as they’d otherwise get.

  • Make it ‘ground pay’ and the tradeoff with flight pay rates is even bigger.

The AFA-CWA union wants full increases in flight pay and half pay for all time on the ground. The total value of the pay package is really what they’re bargaining over, and then slicing it out as flight pay and ground pay. More ground pay means less flight pay, and vice versa.

And ground pay disproportionately benefits junior crew who spend more time on the ground. Confronted with this tradeoff, the union’s own senior members won’t actually support it. So my strong bet is that this is a bargaining position, and not something they end up with. United can’t afford to pay cabin crew more than every other airline.

Negotiations have been going poorly and the union will ask for federal mediation, which is necessary before they can ask the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse and allow the union to strike.

The flight attendants contract at United became amendable in August 2021, and direct negotiations began in January 2022. 91% of the union’s membership reports being unhappy at work which is partly the fault of the airline and partly the fault of the union. Their union head even falsely claimed members were being forced to sleep in cots at the airport. And they are warning their members not to give away free food to passengers in coach.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. American, Southwest, and United flight attendant unions will all fart around, thinking they can one up Delta flight attendants, and end up with far less years after Delta flight attendants got their increase.

  2. Well, at least those Flight Attendants at AA, UA, and WN were given the full pay the taxpayers gave their companies rather than take a mandatory 25% pay cut during the pandemic so delta could then go use taxpayer dollars for equity stakes in foreign airlines.
    Delta is the only one that did that to their flight attendants.
    And before you spout your usual ignorant nonsense about AA furloughing, every FA furloughed got backpay for the time they were furloughed.
    The federal government and taxpayers literally gave delta the money to not cut paychecks by 25%… delta is the only airline that cut pay. Hop off your high horse, Tim.


  3. Pay them in full for their clock-in hours from their first arrival until their last departure . Same as everyone else .

  4. FAs should have 100% ground pay and senior pay cut to 120% of starting pay. Senior FAs are not double as good as junioŕs and sometimes worse.

  5. Uniform pay from the time you are required to ‘clock in’ to the time you ‘clock out’ would make sense. The hourly rate can be adjusted to ensure everyone receives a decent wage (ie a living wage.)
    As elsewhere, experienced, and/or promoted employees receive more than the most junior recruits; their day will come if they hang around and do a good job.
    The idea that senior employees automatically receive more soley for being time-servers despite being lazy or incompetent should be abolished.
    I remember the BA FA oldtimers, who due to their seniority were the laziest, rudest and most arrogant in the sky. Because they could get away with it with no repercussions.

  6. FA do more work dealing with helping passengers with their luggage and seat arrangements when boarding they deserve to get pay while boarding

  7. It sounds like what Millennials and Gen Zs want: starting with mid career pay and being able to afford an average house. The flight attendants without as many years definitely have worse pay to take home but that is by design of the unions. Maybe a vote to decertify the unions would lead to a more equitable results with voted in representation by different unions. I have actually seen a decertification work and actually benefitted from it later.

  8. Back in the day, when I worked at Western Airlines, our contract provided for 1 and 1/2 flight hours per duty time, plus hotel accommodation for sit time longer than 4 hours. When we became non-union that went away. Our sit time at airports sometimes grew to 5:30. When at a base they wanted us to board delayed flights, file mail, and help clean airplanes. All for no extra pay! They got the value they paid for.

    If it’s important, put it in a contract. Alternately, keep a union out by giving boarding pay. None of which is given freely.

  9. cairns,
    I know exactly what I am talking about
    The FA unions are ALL trying to prove they can do better than DAL management’s increases and they will all waste months if not years and still come up short.
    Delta, as it often does, took the lead in the industry and there is no reason why AA, UA or WN will jump out in front in order to placate union interests.
    And Delta employees will get profit sharing based on strong profits and settled labor costs while union-represented FA shops will come up short now and in the future.
    you would have to laugh if real people didn’t believe they were winning even when it is clear they are not.

  10. Stop trapping employees by paying for “seniority” and do what every other American business does: pay for performance.

  11. Interesting, flew QR a few days ago and an F/A was telling me she gets paid after the doors are shut. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other international carriers have the same policies. In a “closed-world” (i.e. isolated) scenario, the F/A’s demands would be practical, however I don’t see a number of these moves as competitive.

  12. This drama aside, had a great transpacific flight with a great team of FAs on United J last week. Jean-Pierre, the purser, was outstanding – always smiling, pleasant, busily attending to everyone during the entire flight. Even helped an old lady with her bags! Been generally impressed with UA FAs the past few years post Covid. Haven’t had a single bad experience. Not so much the gate agents though.

  13. @Jacobin777 – That’s very misleading though. QR crew receive a basic salary that constitutes over half their total salary and is payable whether they fly or not. Additionally, they receive a much smaller flight hour pay, and an even smaller layover pay. The compensation system is nothing like the US carriers where its all based on hourly pay and seniority.

  14. Unions negotiated for nosebleed pay rates while flying specifically because they didn’t get paid on the ground. In other words, they never would have been paid so much if they hadn’t come up with this spite-the-young tactic. Now they want to be paid clock-in to clock-out AND keep their ridiculous hourly rate while flying?! Talk about having your cake and eating it too. Passengers will pay for all of this largess.

  15. Just the other day I saw you post that an FA refused to help a passenger put her bag in the overhead saying it wasn’t her job. Hmmmm, I wonder why they have that attitude?

    There are two reasons, first, she isn’t being paid while the flight is boarding, and second, if she is injured while doing it, she will be out on industrial just hoping the airline pays her medical bills and gives her a good paycheck until she can work again.

    You blame it on the senior flight attendants. As plausible as that may sound, it isn’t correct. Just look at the history of these contracts going back decades.

  16. I do not think the flight attendants lift bags anymore. I was on delta 3 weeks ago and an older, shorter woman could not get her bag up. The attendant said, “I can guide it in but I cannot lift it.”. My husband did it. I can understand that policy if people are getting hurt, but warehouse people lift all day long. Seems like they should probably build it into the job.

  17. Unions should be illegal.
    Companies should be able to fire people who try and form unions and if there is a union on property companies should be able to bust it up.

  18. UA Flight Attendants deserve full hourly pay at their current or better rates as do all flight attendants.. Do any of you commenting work hours you are not paid for ?? No other job can you work off the clock .. You should be ashamed for the tone of this article as it is not supportive or helpful at all .. Even on salary you get paid for every hour you work .. We should all be supporting this crucial change for all air crew .. Their safety professionals and essential workers as well as the first first responders in any aircraft related situation.. They are bar tenders and pacifiers , child care workers and babysitters for adults , they are pacifiers for all the bad behavior they encounter .. They deserve this .. Pitting senior fas against junior fas is a dirty pool as well .. This benefits ALL fas across all airlines and seniority numbers ..

  19. It seems to me they should get double pay. The rationale is that they will have to be standing during this timeframe. Thus, they under additional wear and tear compared with sitting on their jump seats and doing nothing service related during flight.

  20. Agree with the comments that there should be more equal pay rates between seniors and juniors, the fact seniors get 2.25x a junior and better schedules is a joke – and implementing ground pay is one step forward in making it more equal. I hope the majors demand better service standards from FAs to give them pay raises in the air. It is pretty simple, if you want more money do a better job.

    Also @Tim, Delta employees won’t be so happy when Delta can’t grow for the next decade because they hoarded cash to pay shareholders and didn’t order any aircraft…

  21. If you want ground pay you should do ground work while you are there, should not get paid to sit around and do nothing

  22. Any legal experts in here know if the “boarding pay” provision negates the bag lifting prohibition ? To those who have never flown…every US airline hammers into FAs heads that they CANNOT lift bags … period. A few carriers considered the act of kindness as insubordination and the FA could face a coaching for assisting with bags. This was/is a directive from Management. ..not the union.

    My amateur guess is that since the crew is on duty but not ‘on the clock’ it muddys the waters in the legal realm. If I get hurt on the ground by falling galley equipment or something else provided by the airline, it is cut and dry when filing the claim. If the injury occurs due to a third party the responsibility gets blurry.

  23. @Bob….airline CEOs get stock options, not “bonuses”. Scott Kirby got $8.7M in stock options ($1M base salary). There are 92,795 UA employees…so take that $8.7M/92,795= $90.82 per employee. Stop with all that nonsense.

  24. Fine. $20/hr clock in till clock out regardless of flying or not. $0.75/hr per each year of seniority. You’re NOT being paid $40, 50 or even $60 per hour. Don’t even think about it. A flight attendant job requires ONLY a GED and a 75 IQ. Most of you are lazy anyway. If you don’t like the new pay……good. Quit.

  25. I straddle the middle seniority of a similar union setup, and you better believe we’re ready to toss the greedy seniors under the wheels. Seniority was only ever supposed to mean “first pick for schedule”, not “game the wages so it heavily favors me”.

  26. I am a teacher. We are not paid for outside of class work that we must do everyday. Most of it when we get home. Grading papers and lesson plan typing homework and exams etc

  27. Well, sorry but I don’t see them working much when they are at least supposed to be working. Reap what you sow…no service no cash.

  28. I don’t know when I’m traveling for work. I get paid from the minute I leave my house. Seems reasonable that they should do the same.

  29. Ok guys well I’m ACTUALLY a flight attendant.
    So let me just address a few of your comments
    As far as “sitting around” when we are on the ground we are hustling from one flight to another across busy terminals ..so YOUR flights depart on time! When we have long sits at airports, it’s because scheduling built the trips that way. Not our choice to sit in our uniform at an airport, just smiling, on duty and answering questions.
    To the teacher, whine I respect what you do, grading papers with your shoes off and a glass of wine at home is NOT AT ALL similar.
    More like invite every parent and child to come 2-3 hours per evening to your classroom while you just sit and answer questions.still in TEACHER MODE just NO pay.
    Lifting bags..GEEZ!!!
    I’m 6’4” and muscular…you think I don’t want to help with your bags??? Literally no sweat for me., and I do more than I should just to make sure flights departs on time and pax make their connections.
    here’s the catch ..PAY ATTENTION..IF for some reason I injure my rotator cuff, pull a muscle or injured in any way as a result.. I’m not covered for this as an occupational injury! We have to report how an injury occurred and since we’re NOT supposed to lift bags…it’s not covered. So what should we do?
    How many of you would do it knowing it’s not supported by your employer?

    SENIORITY it is everything!
    I was junior once and get wanting to throw senior people under the bus, it’s short-sighted, unless you plan on not making this a career, otherwise you’re “throwing yourself under the proverbial bus”
    The trips that are the most junior are the ones with long sits and lots of connections..13.5 hours duty for 6 hours of pay. Mind you..this isn’t 7.5 hrs of sitting it’s boarding,deplaning, running to your next flight, might be a mile away (IAH,IAD,ATL to name a few)board, deplane repeat. Sound fair to be paid for only 6 hours?
    ALL pay increases yearly. @JOELi I’m just smh “gaming the wages” makes NO sense. If we’re ALL paid the same!!
    PICK OF TRIPS is seniority so if my 3 day LHR trip has more flight pay than your Las Vegas trip. How is that “gaming”?
    I got my pick it’s London and you being junior get Las Vegas? How’s that NOT fair and gaming?

Comments are closed.