United Flight Attendants Sue, Say They Shouldn’t Get Fired For Bullying If They Have Seniority

A little over a year ago United Airlines fired two senior flight attendants who were union leaders. A junior crewmember reported their mask violations, and then the two senior crew solicited false conduct reports against the junior flight attendant in retaliation. United uncovered this, and had no choice but to fire the union reps.

The union sued United, claiming it isn’t allowed to interfere in these internal union matters. A court dismissed the case.

It turns out United fired six senior flight attendants for bullying junior crew. And the six flight attendants are suing for age discrimination.

  • 50 senior pursers were discussing a junior crewmember who was sharing flight attendant mask violations to social media. Their threatening WhatsApp conversation, intended to be private, got leaked to the airline.

  • They claim United shouldn’t be able to use private bullying against them and besides junior crew said nasty things when the union stuck it to them in 2020 – refusing to negotiate a deal that would have prevented furloughs at the expense of reducing schedules and pay for more senior members. Their whataboustism suggests “junior flight attendants were allowed to make egregious comments about veteran ‘senior mamas’ in public Facebook groups without fear of reprisals.”

Since furloughed junior crewmembers weren’t punished for Facebook posts that may not have been specifically reported to the airline, and senior crewmembers were punished for specific threats, clearly firing the senior crew is because they’re older and more expensive.

Paddle Your Own Kanoo points out that United recently lost an age discrimination case where,

  • The flight attendants were watching a movie on an iPad while on duty
  • One was (illegally) smoking an e-cigarette during a flight
  • They both sat on metal galley boxes to watch another movie together, in violation of safety rules

The court found essentially that, sure, those were against the rules but that United must have been motivated by age discrimination to actually fire them since United Airlines flight attendants fail to do their jobs all the time without repercussion.

Almost makes you not super sympathetic to Sara Nelson’s AFA-CWA union which represents United cabin crew.

Meanwhile another United Airlines flight attendant fired during the pandemic for blatantly exposing Marriott hotel guests to Covid while he was quarantining sued Marriott for ratting him out.

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. Unfortunately, I’ve been on UA flights recently where the FA was on social media (IG, FB etc) and when not on her phone, she was reading a book while on duty (not on break). She acted as if I were disturbing her when I asked for water.

    (Recently, I also overheard a UA FA mistreat a passenger when they asked for a 2nd napkin. FA replied, “What do you think this is – a restaurant!” and rolled her eyes while walking away …. 🙁 Bullying passengers is bad for business too.

  2. That’s one of the problems with labor unions. They probably protected the senior bullies for years. My spouse used to fly all over the globe for decades. She talked about the flight, attendants for American carriers on international trips, usually battleaxes.vs the pleasant ones on airlines like Singapore.

  3. The union culture is antithetical to providing an excellent customer experience. That’s why the airline industry is one of the most protectionist industries.

    Imagine the horror of having Singapore Airlines add SFO to JFK before continuing to/from Singapore? Or Emirates adding JFK to LAX? Unions would lose their minds.

  4. Being in a union is akin to having tenure as a university professor. It’s practically impossible to be fired for incompetence.

  5. That’s why I no longer fly UA. Seems the older their FAs get, the less they want to do the job for which they are paid. Too bad the airlines don’t have a mandatory retirement age for FAs as well as pilots.

  6. I am in agreement with firing the bullies, no matter what their age is. Allowing them to continue damages the less senior flight attendants. This in turn also causes more customer dissatisfaction. For me, the truth is that most flight attendants were great on the airlines I have flown in the USA and that includes the flights in the last ten years. There were a few that couldn’t be bothered to do their job. Most of the time another flight attendant would do their job for them. I fly more often on east Asian airlines and the flight attendants are almost always great.

  7. So so called victim, that self-righteous dude who snitched on their colleagues for mask violations (oh the horrors!) and post their pictures on social media is still working there? Serving customers, no less? Not even been disciplined for dragging company’s dirty laundry to the public? It is the definition of toxic work environment. United is irredeemable.

  8. i work at ual and have seen 20 yr union employee lose job for cigareete smoking outside the smoke shack , 45 yr employee lose job over lose of DL ie speeding tickets with the usual failed drug and alcohol tests , attendance problems , sleepers , etc bad untrained first line supervisors fail to document the process that all union contracts spell out

  9. The culture at United is exceedingly toxic amongst flight attendants – there is a fear-based power that senior flight attendants hold over newer and younger flight attendants and a blatant ‘no snitching’ policy – if a flight attendant makes any report of another for doing something unsafe or unprofessional, they will be harassed to no end, their picture shared, in order that they will be made so miserable that they will quit. It is sick and purely based on toxic bullying culture, which is tolerated by the administration at United. Normally I am all for union protection for employees, but the potential talent who join and want to do a good job, have a healthy work life, are being pushed out due to this impressive and detrimental, widespread and well known practice of bullying and threatening.

  10. I have a 50-50 relationship with US flight attendants and gate agents. Half of the time, they’re the greatest people on the planet. The other half of the time, they’re just rude and clearly don’t like their jobs.

    At LAX the last time I flew United, a man approached the counter near the gate to ask a question. the agent, instead of answering his question, turned on the PA and announced, “And now, for the third time…” and answered with a canned response. How rude and demeaning to a paying passenger.

    There was also a flight attendant on my last flight who refused to help a woman struggling with a carry on bag, trying to put it into the overhead bin. Granted, she should have moved a bit quicker and put it up there earlier before pushback, but the flight attendant simply said over the loudspeaker and very sarcastically, “We’ll have to wait for you.” Or, words to that effect. Its been awhile.

    My point is, there’s a huge gulf between the nice United folks and the cranky ones. I can only hope that things improve.

  11. Wow, you’ve really spun this story. Dude, report on something that is intelligent and well-informed. Yet more anti-union spin from you.

  12. Some of your facts that you reported are incorrect. It was not 50
    Flight attendants that were privately discussing this situation it was a few of them. These particular flight attendants had exemplary employment records and were sticking up for false allegations made by this junior employee.

    All were over the age of 50 and had 25+ years of professional service with perfect records…. Not one bad mark on their records! So they are fired? Not give. Chance to rectify the situation. They were not billing ir harassing this person. They having a private conversation on a platform that is not social media.

    This is deplorable and United better get out their checkbook!

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