Union Told Crew Not To Work Extra Trips As American Airlines Cancelled Thousands Of Flights

The American Airlines operation began having real problems on Thursday. High winds in North Texas slowed down takeoffs and landings at the airline’s largest hub in Dallas. That led to cancellations, and crew out of position. They had to use their available employees on reserve.

As they faced the end of the month, they ran out of backup employees. The airline blames weather, but weather happens all the time to every airline. What happened here, as Cranky Flier points out, is that American built its schedule back faster than they’ve added crew. So there’s simply no margin for error.

Over the summer American cancelled flights due to a lack of Boeing 737 pilots, since many of those pilots had been grounded during the pandemic. The airline took $10 billion in taxpayer money to ‘keep employees ready to fly when passengers return’ but didn’t keep employees ready to fly, and incentivized early retirements and leaves of absences to reduce headcount.

Now the problem was lack of flight attendants. American tried to get flight attendants to work beyond their contractual maximum duty hours and the union hit back on Saturday, encouraging flight attendants not to agree. American’s operation got much worse on Sunday.

We are in the last two days of the month and are currently seeing an alarming number of illegal Reserve assignments and reschedules. The language in JCBA Section 12.L. states that as a Reserve Flight Attendant you will not be required to accept an assignment that would take you over your monthly maximum. For the month of October, the monthly maximum is 90.00 hours in all bases. Pay close attention to your RSVCOT (Reserve Calling Out of Time) which appears just below your phone number on your HI1. The Company cannot force you to accept an assignment that pushes your RSVCOT above 90.00 hours.

As a reminder, once your RSVCOT shows 85.01 or more, you can call crew scheduling to call out of time once you sign in for the trip that projected you over 85.01.

It is infuriating to listen to the recorded calls when Flight Attendants are justly challenging Crew Scheduling/Tracking on illegal assignments. …Their disrespectful tone and manner, all while lobbing the threat of missed trips, must stop. …The fact that there is inadequate staffing to cover the operation as it is currently structured is not the fault of Flight Attendants.

American has been short-staffed for some time. Pilots on reserve are being reassigned trips that violate their contract, and told by management to “grieve it.” This is supposed to be saving American $500 million a year in payroll, but they’re paying significant premiums to crew to cover trips eating into this savings.

Weather happens all the time, and there isn’t the slack they’d have under normal circumstances. One thing goes wrong and the operation unravels because they don’t have the staffing margin needed to run the option. American points out that they have new flight attendants entering the operation and more coming off of leave. But they’ve lacked pilots, they’ve lacked reservations agents, and they’ve lacked gate agents too (and new labor-saving single agent boarding means they don’t count problematic passengers before they board).

As the American Airlines flight operation was melting down on Friday, here’s what management was doing – leaked video from their Halloween party.

Normally American Airlines puts a fully-produced version of its Halloween festivities up on its internal employee site quickly. I have to imagine the reason the video that version of the video hasn’t been sent to me yet is that it’s awkward to have management dancing – not focused on fixing the operation – as flights are cancelling far and wide.

Last year CEO Doug Parker went as Billy Ray Cyrus. The previous year he played Boy George, lip syncing Karma Chameleon with a giant chameleon running around in the background.

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 »

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  1. The Union has a contract with the employer, American Airlines. It is the union’s job to police the contract to make certain the employer abides by the mutually agreed upon terms. That contract also set the behaviors and working conditions the employees are expected to fulfill. The contract has provisions for the employer to use if certain conditions apply. Outside of those working conditions and contract provisions employees are not obligated to do anything.

    I know you dislike unions but don’t make it so obvious.

  2. Greg – unions have no place in 2021. They are counter productive to running an efficient profitable enterprise. I wish businesses would break every one of them!

    In this case the flight attendants (and their union) could have easily gone above and beyond given the circumstances like workers in most businesses would do. They didn’t and that tells you all you need to know about unions

  3. A contract is just that. The language as agreed upon should be followed. Most wouldn’t or couldn’t handle what reserve flight attendants have to endure. Be it attitudes like you hear here or rhetoric from their employer. Its issues as of late that ABSOLUTELY show necessity for unions in 2021. Labor for the first time in YEARS is showing who’s in the driver’s seat. Enough of the corporate squeezing of every last drop from employees as the fat cats sit back and point fingers. Look for MORE unionization. I love how unions are always the problem. Look to your CEOS and their pay ratio. Boy…BYE

  4. Unions were created to give workers a collective voice in their working conditions because they were subject to abuse by employers. The FA Union and its members did not create AA’s staffing and scheduling problems and shouldn’t be held responsible for solving them. That is management’s job and it seems that they have failed even though they took Government money meant to help them avoid just this situation. It is misplaced criticism to blame the FA’s because they refuse to be abused by AA management. @jon, @AC, @Ryan

  5. Whata way to ruin a company’s 95 year reputation in 5 days!
    Tripping over dollar bills to pick up pennies.
    Hey Doug I think it’s time to go!

  6. Trying to envision next Union position at contract negotiation: “you should give us a 15% increase since we left you hanging in a time of need”. Or would it be better to lead with “we have bailed you out in your time of need. Now if you compensate us properly we are happy to be a strong partner. If not, I guess we see how the next breakdown goes “.

  7. Unions first and foremost protect employees against bad managers and bad management.

    Whatever you think of unions until you’ve worked under a really bad manager you have no idea.

  8. I’m generally anti union and especially so as it relates to airline unions. However, in this case I think the union did customers and the airline a favor.

    By forcing the issue and demonstrating managements lack of foresight and lack of operating resiliency they have (hopefully) forced AA to get serious about calling back furloughed workers and stepping up hiring. To have stepped up and powered through the problem would have been akin to enabling a alcoholic.

    My family and I have together taken about 2 dozen flights on AA this year and every one has either been rescheduled, cancelled, delayed or some combination. It appears it is now standard operating procedure to post flights throughout the day and later cancel half of them later to ensure planes go out full. We have had this happen multiple times in 2021. And in every case the flight we have been moved to was available at the time of booking for less money or fewer miles. It’s a classic bait and switch.

    This is a very broken company. Living in Dallas they are especially hard to avoid with the limited schedules of competitors due to Covid. The majority of my flights have been award travel. But over the last few years I fly other airlines whenever possible. And when things return to normal, they will get as little of my business as I can manage.
    @Fire Parker

  9. Given how Parker served up his brand of Kool-Aid to create a totally necrotic board of directors to prevent good governance and oversight, at what point will the willful misuse of taxpayer funds earmarked for the employees trigger the DOJ; demand a refund?

  10. Its obvious that AA Southwest Spirit Delta etc have overscheduled, over promised but far from delivering a reliable product.

    Its obvious, they are greedy enough to inflate their future schedules , accept the advance revenue AND allowed to totally mismanage their staffing to cover the expansion and with no accountability.
    Shame Shame on them.

    Please keep in mind the contract language you have copied here is only limiting the Flight Attendants hours on Reserve.
    However, they are free to pick up time on their own after they have completed their 85+ hour commitment and do.

    The fix , though, is not as simple as volunteering heads to work..

    Its pilot and aircraft availability too..
    Management was fast to cut staffing but too slow to cover the operation expanding.

    Any time there is a meltdown in the operation, AA management of from front line to senior management disappear.
    Their butts should be out in the middle of the mess helping the overworked frontline employees
    Because what ever they are doing behind the scenes has created this continuous clusterF+*k of an operation.

  11. “My family and I have together taken about 2 dozen flights on AA this year ”

    Hey johnny, pandemic going on if u havent heard

  12. This is a poorly run company. There appears to br much chaos on top. I found this out when I applied for a job a few months ago. It was easier for me to be offered a job at Delta.

  13. Usually I don’t comment on miscast sentences, but there’s one in your piece on AA I can’t ignore.

    “The American Airlines operation began having real problems on Thursday. High winds in North Texas slowed down takeoffs and landings at the airline’s largest hub in Dallas.”

    How many hubs does AA have in Dallas? If there’s only one, an em dash could have saved the day, at least for your readers.

    If there are at least two hubs, did the smaller hubs fare better?

  14. I know pilots that got paid their minimum salary to hang out at the beach all day. This is several times more more than the they would see on unemployment. The American public paid a huge some of money to the Airlines that helped to keep employees off unemployment. It was the American public that was directly affected with cancellations, so I see this more as repaying the people that were affected, the American public, then some concession to mismanagement by management or union/management warfare.

  15. If the union has bailed out AA, management at AA would have perceived them as weak and offered 15% reductions in pay and benefits. The union did what it needed to do.

  16. “Work to Rule” will be the way through Christmas. Prepare yourselves, Winter is Coming.

  17. Good thing that the FAs are unionized and can stand up to the greedy corporate thugs in management when they try to pull a fast one.

  18. All of the people that are quick to defend the unions at AA would do well to remember that US taxpayers wrote checks to airlines which directly benefited unions.
    There is a laundry list of hearings and committees that need to be had in DC about all kinds of issues but one of the greatest has to be the absolute ripoff that taxpayers have suffered at the hands of airline unions.
    If AA’s unions can’t understand the real risk they face, then they should at least be prepared for a landing which they have never prepared for in FA training.

  19. You need to look carefully at the COVID vaccine mandate.
    There are a lot of employees who are expecting to be out of a job because of the mandate, why would they put out extra effort at such a time.
    The stress of worrying about their future, causes people in critical positions to be sick enough to spend more time away.

  20. Sort of hard to blame this on weather and so on when the company received a huge amount of sick calls! This needs investigation as this was nothing short of a union organized sick out against American Airlines!

  21. Neither the union nor the flight attendants had anything to do with this meltdown. It is strictly the fault of AAs upper management

  22. Some of you keep talking about the tax payers government bailout ,as if aa employees were not tax payers themselves.
    Second, the crew working life does not compare to other jobs, you can’t be forcednto be away from your partner , children , education, obligations at home etc. This is a management greed problem. Not the employees.

  23. Vazir Mukhtar. Your comment is the most interesting and by far the most intelligent one that I have read on this thread — in my humble opinion.

  24. Steve, mind your own business. If Johnny wants to fly frequently, it’s his business – you don’t need to tell him there’s a pandemic.

    If you want the government to pretend to take care of you, that’s your choice as well.

    His actions don’t affect you. Is your name Brandon?

  25. AA was actually paying overtime, even to reserve flight ay. We were never told not to fly, even by the he union. Your article is not true.

  26. Hey everybody. Gary’s article lead is a balled face lie. I am an American Airlines flight attendant and the union did no such thing. Our union is so aligned with AA management I doubt they’d even notice thousands of contract violations daily. So sorry but you need to actually interview and investigate better Gary.

  27. Some folk have quite a lot to say about unions and work rules but unless you work under long 18 hour duty days and not being paid for the full 18 hours with almost less than 8 hours of rest please hush . Companies would abuse people mental health and immune system as if they are machines if there was no unions. If companies would do right by employee all the time then there was no use for a union but corporate greed exist and is worse than you would know unless you work under said conditions.

  28. Everybody is making up fake excuses at all the airlines… But I am told Buy multiple friends in the airline business is because employees don’t want to get vaccinated and it’s becoming mandatory for them…

  29. This narrative that the Union encouraged FAs not to accept reassignments/sequences is a LIE. We had been used and abused all month and the schedulers were using scare tactics to violate our contract and legal rest. In some cases a 1 day trip turned into a 4 day trip because we were being displaced and/or overlooked when the weather and cancellations began.

  30. I have to laugh at those blaming the unions. Management doesn’t negoatiate anything they can’t afford or accomplish. They signed off on the contracts.

  31. Right on Ranae
    All these opinions from people who think they know. You all don’t know.
    So many quick to judge and blame. Then they fly and verbally and physically abuse staff, flight attendants, ticket counter and Gate agents.
    You all have a choice in airlines, pick one and move on. Or come work at AA and then tell us on here what you think after you truly know.

  32. Unions are racketeering organizations, I am now all for making them illegal, I use to support unions, now they’re just assholes.

  33. This makes me like the union even more. American took billions in taxpayer cash to keep employees at the ready. Instead of doing what they were supposed to do, they laid off staff, offered early retirements and repeatedly threatened the employees who remained.

    American took aim at the US taxpayer and is willing to throw consumers under the bus for profits. The union is the only good guy in this sad story.

  34. AA management never takes ownership of a problem. It’s the weather, flight attendants or anything other than there greed. Will not fly AA if another option is available…

  35. @ Tim Dunn — American received taxpayer dollars ostensibly to support payroll. No one forced American to run the number of training events they chose to, to lay off/furlough the number of employees they chose to, nor forced them to bring back a schedule that couldn’t be supported by actual manpower.

    American management chose to do those things, and it has resulted in a poor operation. It is foolish of American to expect that this poor operation will be saved by asking one flight attendant at a time to work trips beyond their monthly maximum. If your home has an unstable foundation, you should blame the builder, not the inspector who discovered it.

  36. If the unionized groups chose to help management’s poor decision making it would only further the bad managers and decisions in the future. Instead of demonizing the unions and its members how about lay the blame and focus the correction where it belongs, on management.

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