United Airlines Flight Attendants Union Warns Crew Not To Give Food Away Free In Coach

While American Airlines negotiations with its flight attendants have gotten the most public attention – flight attendants are threatening Christmas strikes, but the timing won’t work out for that – United Airlines has been in protracted negotiations with cabin crew. I wrote back in February about those negotiations being stuck.

In a memo made public by aviation watchdog JonNYC, the AFA-CWA union, which represents United flight attendants, is reminding its members that under the Railway Labor Act it is illegal to engage in ‘self help’ (not just striking, but unilateral efforts to hurt the company) before being released from negotiations by the National Mediation Board.

AFA-CWA tells cabin crew that they cannot coordinate refusing to pick up trips, call for their colleagues to “work to rule” or to refuse to perform any duties, as well as “refusing to charge customers for buy-on-board products.” They admonish flight attendants to “be careful on social media about how we talk about negotiations” (emphasis mine).

  • The memo opens telling flight attendants to “be careful” about how they talk about negotiations and how they pressure the Company – it doesn’t say not to pressure the company. Just don’t get caught!

  • And sending this message provides the union with deniability in the event flight attendants do take matters into their own hands, to push back against the company seeking an injunction or damages.

This was a similar message to one American’s flight attendants union sent to crewmembers over the summer. A far back as January I flew an American Airlines flight where crew were telling each other not to go out of their way providing service, “work to rule..contract negotiations.”

It’s interesting that both unions effectively give the same suggestion on how crewmembers shouldn’t take matters into both hands. The unions definitely, absolutely, certainly wouldn’t want their members giving away buy on board food for free, costing their airlines revenue.

Then again it’s hardly a negotiating tactic to make customers happy with their airline through surprise and delight experiences like being given free food 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 »

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  1. Both AA and UA FAs are right in pushing for a settlement because they know FAs, unlike pilots, will not get retro pay. As with AA’s FAs, all UA will get is parity with DL but, without retro, they have already lost tens of millions of dollars that DL FAs got months ago. And there is no assurance that AA or UA FAs will get even the DL profit sharing formula – which AA and UA pilots have – and it really doesn’t make sense to settle just for that because AA and UA cannot earn profits comparable to DL, in part because of DL’s credit card/loyalty and refinery revenue and the cost reduction from its refinery. DL employees will remain the best compensated in the industry unless AA or UA EXCEED scale rates – which is not going to happen. Having Scott Kirby say he wants to wait until the end of the big 4 so he can then exceed the rates of others is nothing short of saving tens of millions of dollars which he knows he will never have to pay.

  2. @Tim Dunn – as I understand it, American is offering the Delta profit sharing formula. Just without the profits. AAdvantage profitability is not a problem here. Your more general points are correct – APFA does its members a disservice in overpromising in advance of their own re-election, dragging out negotiations, and delaying raises.

  3. thanks for letting me know the DL profit sharing formula is in the APFA offer, Gary
    and the problem, as you have noted, is that AA as an airline cannot generate the profits that DL or UA generate, relying on the loyalty program to totally carry the airline which is why their profit sharing will never be comparable to DL’s. Still, DL/Amex is worth more to DL than AA or UA get from their programs and partners and that is before the MRO revenue DL gets which AA and UA can’t pursue because their unionized maintenance groups won’t accept the temporary workers which DL has to use in order to pursue outside maintenance work which is not linear and which is partially subsidized by DL’s retirement plan – alot of DL mechanics come back to work after retirement as contractors. And the refinery does reduce DL’s fuel costs – over $1 billion savings on a comparable ASM basis for 2022 although 2023 won’t be that much.
    It is actually surprising that UA’s FAs have been as docile throughout this process as they have.

  4. @Tim Dunn – we don’t actually know that SkyMiles generates more profit than AAdvantage, there are a variety of assumptions to get there and it may not be accurate. Remember, the information that both airlines release about their program financials is very limited. On a pro forma basis, AAdvantage is highly likely more profitable than SkyMiles because Delta charges its loyalty program more for seats on its own metal than American does AAdvantage. You need to make your own accounting assumptions to do any kind of apples-to-apples.

  5. Skymiles and Amex do generate more revenue for DL – by a long shot – than AA or UA’s programs do. You have to jump through alot of hoops to try to argue that the much higher levels of revenue to DL doesn’t translate into more profit.
    From a network standpoint, DL is simply more conservative in making sure the routes it flies generate profit – without trying to justify poor performing routes as “strategically necessary” as AA and UA have both done. As much as you want to believe otherwise, AA simply cannot generate enough MORE loyalty revenue or profits to overcome its network issues such as in NYC.
    and even if you assume that AA and UA loyalty and card programs deliver comparable profits to DL- which I don’t think is true at all – the MRO revenue and refinery cost reductions are real profit drivers which do help all DL employees through profit sharing which AA and UA unions can’t match. DL is simply a more profitable airline and it would take higher scale rates from AA and UA for those two airlines to end up paying their employees in total more than DL employees.

  6. @Tim Dunn – “Skymiles and Amex do generate more revenue for DL – by a long shot – than AA or UA’s programs do”

    Revenue is not the same thing as profit. On an accounting basis it is likely that AAdvantage shows more profit internally than SkyMiles does. That doesn’t mean more economic profit, but there’s a whole lot of assumptions we need to argue over to get to one over the other.

    Your continued harping on this oil refinery certainly overstates any benefit, especially if you look at more than just current benefit, since cumulatively it’s been a loser since acquisition.

  7. Sorry to interrupt the Gary-Tim convo. I find it curious that people opine with great certainty what FA’s at UA and AA will or won’t get. I guess they must have better crystal balls than the rest of us.
    On a different note, AA would rather its FAs just peddle more credit card apps if they want more pay since they get $50 or more per approved app.

  8. One other random thought, Delta FA’s are the beneficiary of unions at other carriers. They would not see the pay increases they have had but because their management will do what is necessary to keep a union off the property the FAs get pay bumps. Of course, that doesn’t mean they get work rules.

  9. Steve,
    DL pilots will argue that they provide an incentive for the company to ensure non-cons are paid well but regardless of who drives what, there is little reason for DL’s non-union personnel to unionize if someone else pays the bill and DL is happy to be able to not have to deal w/ the inefficiencies of a union including the rancor that has marked AA and UA’s labor relations for years – it just happens to be AA in the spotlight right now. DL non-pilot employees had the chance to retain unions post NW merger and largely shot it down. No group since has succeeded at meeting the requirements to force an election.
    Not only could DL employees unionize if they want but there are plenty of unionized employees at other airlines that would love NOT to be represented by a union but the process to get a union decertified is even harder than getting one in the door.

    It is YOU that has to make all kinds of assumptions to believe that DL’s higher loyalty and card revenue doesn’t translate into higher profits esp. given that DL generates about 2X as much loyalty/card revenue as AA or UA. It is more than a leap to think that $2 billion more revenue in the same type of program can translate into higher corporate profits.
    And NYC post NEA is a classic example of why the argument that strong card revenue can offset a weak network.
    As for the refinery, you and others that state that the refinery is not profitable are the same ones that refuse to actually read and publish DL’s fuel accounting which they disclose in their 10Qs and Ks. They said when the acquired the refinery that the intent was to reduce DL’s fuel costs and not for the refinery to operate as a profitable operation on a standalone basis. DL’s accounting shows that, cumulatively, the refinery has been breakeven, which is why DL attempted to sell PARTS of the refinery business but retain the fuel cost savings; not surprisingly, no one was interested. DL is not willing to get rid of the fuel cost savings to the airline which have amounted to more than $2 billion, of which $1 billion was accrued just in 2022.

    None of which change that DL employee profit sharing is heavily boosted by DL’s non-transportation ventures. their airline profits are not that much different than AA or UA’s outside of the clear money-losing routes and hubs that AA and UA have been willing to operate but DL has not.

  10. I flew American to Korea and back in October. In coach I was not charged for an alcoholic drink ever.

  11. I feel as though this comment regarding food is based on local segments. Transatlantic flights with no food spell very high disapproval ratings.

  12. Management has one goal in mind, and that is how much can they put in their pockets at the cost of labor. Pilots get paid well, and they should, but without flight attendants, who on a good flight service the customer, but most people don’t realize that there duties far exceed the simple perception that they are first responders in the event of a situation. FAA states that all aircraft are to de board an aircraft in less than 2 minutes, regardless of the size of aircraft and are responsible for the passenger’s first in an emergency situation. Rarely do passenger’s see that. Pay the Pilots, screw the flight attendants and ramp, but not one can be without the other to get a plane off the ground.

  13. I know this will generate controversy but having flown JL, NH, KE and SQ recently, I’d retire them and start fresh.

  14. I would take Asian flight attendants over US. It is not even close. Better service and not old and cranky.

  15. America’s profit sharing varies depending on the work group. I am non union and receive a fraction of what the pilots and mechanics get. This year I received a couple of hundred bucks, and since it gets taxed at a higher rate than my actual pay let’s just say I didn’t see much of it. Frankly, it’s insulting. It’s easier to pretend I don’t get profit sharing because what I do get doesn’t make much of a difference in my life. I’ve been with AA for 10 years. That doesn’t mean anything to them….

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