Why American Airlines Flight Attendants Aren’t Ready To Strike

American Airlines flight attendants are sticking “We Are Ready” tags on their bags, highlighting a willingness to strike for a better contract. But flight attendants aren’t actually ready.

It’s precisely because (1) flight attendants do not make very much, and (2) their union is weak and mismanaged that they are not in a position to endure a strike.

Most flight attendants can’t go without paychecks. They’re already living paycheck to paycheck. California is considering paying unemployment to workers who are on strike but that’s an outlier.

Thanks to infighting and graft they’ve been focused on internal misdeeds rather than building a union that could manage a strike. The UAW is paying striking workers $500 per week. APFA isn’t in a position to do this.

This is why APFA can’t really strike, or if they do strike they can’t do it for long. As a result, the strategy they’re considering is ‘CHAOS’ or ‘Create Havoc Around Our System,’ a tactic pioneered by rival union AFA-CWA.

  • They target specific flights on certain dates to strike by surprise
  • That creates uncertainty for the airline and for passengers
  • The goal is to get media attention and have customers book away from the airline, since they don’t know whether or not their flights will operate

Any job action needs to be asymmetric, causing more pain to the airline and its customers than to the union’s members because they cannot afford a large scale job action.

Because their members aren’t in a position to hold out, and because it’s far easier to replace flight attendants than pilots, strike-breaking tactics against flight attendants work. British Airways managed to add lower wage work groups, largely breaking their cabin crew union, nearly 15 years ago – flying through a strike with replacements.

In 1993 American Airlines flight attendants went on strike. For a couple of days it was completely unclear which flights would operate. By day three things had stabilized. The airline had begun training replacement crew, in case the strike lasted. They offered base transfers out of seniority order for employees who came back to work. And they threatened that anyone that didn’t returned would have their seniority stapled below the replacement workers who were hired. The strike lasted five days.

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. You left something out Gary. President Clinton. Also, how is it that flight attendants can’t afford to strike now because they’re paid peanuts but they were able to afford to strike in 1993? I guess they were rolling in the dough then. Here’s your first click. Have a great day! I know I am.

  2. Because they’re lazy trash that couldn’t get hired at a Denny’s and need their flight perks and nazi privilege.

  3. In many ways, flight attendants make or break passengers’ experience on a flight. You wouldn’t notice much of a difference between a great and a mediocre pilot, but that’s not the case with FAs. In this way, they should be well compensated – but wish there was a way to tie that in with their performance.

  4. feel free to let us know the data that shows that AA flight attendants live any more paycheck to paycheck than any other Americans, and I mean wage earnings, not AA employees

    UA pilots just approved their massive new contract.

    AA and UA FAs are the next big contracts that have to be settled and the chances are that AA will settle w/ its FAs before UA does w/ its own.

    Somewhere in this process, WN has to settle w/ both its pilots and FAs.

  5. @ Walter – I thought they make $60k range on average? Which didn’t seem high relative to their impact. I suppose that’s subjective.

  6. LMFAO Jake. That’s well compensated. And that’s earnings, doesn’t take in to account travel perks etc. For a glorified waitress, 60K is overpaid. “Their impact”? OK, fine – pay them a “we did something other than serve drinks” bonus. Because 99.9% of the time, that’s all they do.

  7. Walter, put down the bag of chips and your beer of choice then turn off the reruns of Judge Judy. Next, get off the couch and get a job so you too can become a productive member of society instead of telling everyone how jealous you are of those that do. Enjoy your day!

  8. There are senior flight attendants making over $200,000 a year. And they are the most worthless of the bunch. As long as they are back to normal by November, I hope they strike until they get their home eviction notices. Most of the FA’s working business class on international flights can’t even get down the aisle and these are wide body planes. Replacements will only improve the service.

  9. Suckers that’s what all workers are. Playing the game of marked cards and say yes to everything. Be happy we got a job, a pay check and a hotel room to die. In the mean time the CEO gets another million in bonuses.

  10. @ mark – I do remember seeing some surly UA FAs fitting that description ages ago on international business, but not so much in recent years. In any case, wish there was a way that great FAs could receive outsized compensation, rather than a blanket raise for all. Perhaps tying it to customer feedback somehow.

  11. I wish that there was a way for AA to fire all of the FAs and bring in non-Union workers. I think that would probably be best for everyone and I would cement my loyalty. They could also break the union – maybe require decertification as part of the negotiations as they starve out the workers. Maybe AA likes a weAAk union. I’m having a great day. Sounds like most people on here are.

  12. What the FA’s need are allies, specifically the pilots union or the machinists union. Given that both groups act in far too self-absorbed a manner that seems unlikely.

    That said, Gary is absolutely right that the FA’s union has done nothing to prepare for a strike, such as building up a war chest. That’s completely self inflicted and says pretty clearly that the union needs capable leadership for a change.

  13. Some of you have no idea what our job is really like. We do more than serve pretzels & beer. I’m be had people like you on my flights…ugh! You need the real story of our life & job

  14. That’s funny TS. Sounds like the job of an FA is so much worse than any other job in the world and the life you chose must be the reason for your inhospitable demeanor. As long as we know you have it rough I am confident everyone will stop complaining. If the FA industry would learn consistency, and know the rules, and recognize that your office is on the plane rather than your next destination, you might be more highly respected. Until then, you will probably receive the respect that we all know that we will receive.

  15. Wow! I’ve seen you write alot of mistruth’s.
    However, YOU ARE SO WRONG!

  16. @Mark Johnson:

    “There are senior flight attendants making over $200,000 a year.”

    Not even close. A full schedule is $70,000. Very, very rare would be the flight attendant who makes over $100,000 and almost none that make $120,000. And they would be working a LOT.

    Where did you get your imaginary little numbers? Did a proctologist insert them?

  17. John Luffred seems to border on extortion. Holding vacations hostage borders on illegal bargaining activities.

  18. Ida Gomez Llanos worked as a flight attendant at Delta and predecessor carriers for 57 years. She had the fifth most seniority out of all of their cabin crew. She was fired back in April, and she’s suing.

    She says that her seniority meant she was earning $250,000 a year as a flight attendant and that Delta just wanted to replace her with someone cheaper and younger and she says “her bosses dismissed her for taking a carton of milk off a plane after her line manager gave her permission.”

    “Keep in mind that these senior FA’s only have 2-4 flights per month and frequently SELL their routes to lesser paid employees”

  19. @ Mark – that’s an interesting case. According to the article I just read, she apparently flew 250 hours per month, which is incredible at 78 yo. That combined with being able to pick and choose prime assignments apparently got her to that 4x average FA pay.

  20. 1KBrad, apparently nobody wants the real information to get out that the FA’s make a lot more money than is being spoken about due to all kinds of factors that are not included in their salary. They spread propaganda with things like their clock doesn’t start until the door closes (thus the reason for doing nothing until that time), but that would infer they are hourly employees rather than salary. Which is it? So, what is the real problem? Do they want pilot pay? Do they hate their management so much that they feel that punishing the passengers will prove that we shouldn’t be flying with their company? One of the above seems to be delighting in either the public will fear to risk their vacation or they hope they get the chance to ruin the once in a lifetime trips that people plan. The absolute best thing that could ever happen for passenger experience improvement would be for FA;s to fly and observe how the asian airlines operate and what they call service.

  21. @Mark Johnson:

    Since my wife is an AA flight attendant and you clearly no nothing of how it ACTUALLY works, I’ll ignore your nonsense.

    BTW, she has flown in F with me repeatedly on SQ, CX, JL and EK. She knows how others operate and you would be lucky to have her working your flight.

  22. @1kbrad, that’s funny because AA and the plane’s own crew would never let another FA provide the service I received on CX first. They would be ostracized and ridiculed into submission. The poor senior FA’s on international business and first can barely even pass out the meal. I can’t even imagine them trying to open an emergency door. I can certainly see how more forgiving I might be in my assessment if I got to fly free or ID20 or whatever discount they have these days. Ex Aa employee here so I do have some idea.

  23. @Mark Johnson:

    So you’ve never had a good flight on AA?

    Then why are you so stupid that you keep flying them?

    That makes you one of the dumbest people I know.

  24. @ Mark Johnson:

    So . . . you’ve never had a good flight on AA?

    Then why do you keep flying them?

    Doing so makes you one of the dumbest people I have heard of.

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