The decision by non-union Delta Air Lines to pay flight attendants during boarding, a practice that doesn’t exist at other U.S. airlines, has:
- Other airline flight attendants envious – this is the talk of the industry – and
- Other airline unions running scared, because they haven’t been able to deliver anything like this
Delta gave its flight attendants a raise right before the pandemic, declared special profit-sharing earlier this year, and just gave them another raise this month – in addition to thousands of dollars additional pay via this change to compensation that starts June 2.
The truth is that other flight attendants are compensated based on flight length, and that’s meant to cover work done during boarding. And this how how union contracts have been designed – it’s what flight attendant representatives wanted. But there’s another element that most flight attendants don’t realize.
- By folding pay for boarding into the hourly rate paid for the flight, it’s a system that benefits senior employees at the expense of junior employees.
- Those working international long haul trips have more flight hours – unpaid boarding time per hour of paid flying time is much lower than for flight attendants working domestic trips.
- Consider a two hour (paid) flight with 35 minutes of (unpaid) boarding versus a 10 hour (paid) flight with 50 minutes of (unpaid) boarding. Now multiple the unpaid boarding piece across several domestic segments a day for what are usually more junior crew working these trips.
There is a reason unions have supported this pay structure and since most flight attendants are working domestic or short-haul international trips at the large legacy carriers, the majority of cabin crew should be furious with their unions. And this is how most decision-making at airline unions takes place, exploiting junior crew for the benefit of more senior crew.
Thousands of flight attendants at American and United were furloughed during the pandemic. No flight attendants were furloughed at Delta. The biggest difference is that unions at American and United protected senior employees (who were protected from furlough by years of service in the union last-in, first-out system) while Delta was able to adjust hours and duties – even assigning non-flight duties to cabin crew – to keep everyone working and paid.
At American Airlines, when the federal government was subsidizing airlines and requiring them to keep employees on payroll, the most junior flight attendants worked while senior crew were generally paid without having to work. That’s the reverse of how things usually work (trips assigned based on seniority) because once again the union protected its senior members at the expense of junior employees.
Junior employees are told ‘we’re all in this together’ and unions strengthen their hand against management, but the Association of Professional Flight Attendants at American never slammed the airline for furloughing cabin crew while some other airlines didn’t. Neither did Sara Nelson’s AFA at United. It’s a system that enriches senior employees at the expense of junior employees and protects low performers at the expense of high performers.
Union flight attendants don’t benefit when their colleagues shirk on their duties inflight, it leaves more work for them and that extra work is something created by union job protections for underperformers.
Ultimately non-union Delta flight attendants are mostly better off, it isn’t that unions at other airlines are getting something for members that they wouldn’t otherwise get. Flight attendant leverage isn’t also nearly as great as what pilots enjoy (since the supply of pilots is limited). So flight attendants unions mostly spend time redistributing the pay that crew would otherwise get, while charging all members for the privilege.