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.