Why United Airlines Flight Attendant Negotiations Are Stuck – And What The Union Is Demanding

United Airlines flight attendants, represented by the AFA-CWA union, have been working on a contract over the past year and a half since the August 2021 amendable date and report very little progress. Direct negotiations began in January 2022, yet there’s been resolution on just one section out of 34 in their contract – dealing with flight attendants taken hostage or who become prisoners of war – despite 22 negotiation sessions held over 63 days.

  • AFA reports that United wants to reduce the ability to jumpseat, eliminate parking benefits for flight attendants away from base, and eliminate telephones (everyone has cell phones!) which the union objects to.

  • United also wants to “[d]elete [the] ability to drink under specific conditions while deadheading.” The union wants a relaxation of alcohol rules, and more pay for federally mandated alcohol and drug tests.

  • The union wants flight attendants to be paid commission for Buy on Board sales and wants more crew rest, while United wants to “Limit Crew Rest on Domestic flights – Jumpseat only for :30 rest – no enhancement to Crew Rest facilities” and impose a ‘Requirement for Flight Attendants to be “available” to Scheduling while on layovers’

  • The union wants higher pay, increase minimum hours from 71 to 75, increase pay for all positions, more holiday pay and profit sharing, they want ground pay and essential worker pay and a higher reserve guarantee.

    They are also asking for reduced premium contributions for medical and dental, plus lower deductibles, and limitations on annual cost increases as well as increased paid 401(k) matching. And they want higher staffing levels. They want a higher per diem while on the road, to be given the same meals and hotels as pilots, and a higher ground transportation allowance.

    Compensation is something the union wants to negotiate last, in case flight attendants at other airlines get pay increases in the meantime which helps their bargaining position.

  • They want to limit their duty day to fewer hours than United is willing to give, and limits on working after a redeye. They don’t want flight attendants scheduled to work more than 4 segment trips. United is willing to limit to 5 segments scheduled, 6 with reschedules.

  • United wants the ability to discontinue the International Purser program and replace with management employees. They want the purser to have actual authority on the flight, and not to be assigned merely by seniority. This would be.. .amazing.

  • They want more training pay, more vacation, and more flexible use of sick leave. There’s also a lot of discussion of how voluntary furloughs would work, given the experience during the pandemic.

  • United wants to reduce union involvement in uniform style choices, and eliminate union bulletin boards and locked boxes. The airline doesn’t want to be responsible for collecting union dues that are in arrears.

The union says 91% of their members feel unvalued in their jobs and that 99% have unresolved issues. They don’t receive boarding pay, like Delta’s non-union flight attendants. They don’t receive comparable profit sharing. And they don’t receive bonuses for the same arduous trips Delta’s crew do.

United trailed only American in furloughing flight attendants during the pandemic, and has reduced staffing levels on international trips. Meanwhile the union has eaten its own rather than worked to protect members against the company.

Ultimately the United Airlines flight attendants union says they’re not willing to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ giving the airline flexibility they’re looking for in exchange for the pay that they want. They want more money and greater restrictions on their duty assignments, in other words they want flight attendants to cost the airline more across all dimensions.

However flight attendants aren’t in the same bargaining position as pilots. Flight attendants aren’t in short supply, and it’s easier to hire more (there’s no 1500 hour rule!). Pilots can shut down an airline in a way that flight attendants cannot to the same extent. So pilots have a lot more leverage.

And there’s a tradeoff between work rules and pay. More flexible work rules mean a flight attendant can be more productive, creating more value for the company, which the company will pay more for. Less flexible work rules mean the flight attendant is less productive for the company, and they can earn less. Ultimately the value of the wage cannot exceed the value of marginal product.

After working on a contract for a year and a half, and negotiating for 14 months, they have agreement on language around flight attendants being abducted or held involuntarily – but only because neither side is asking for changes in contract language.

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. Amazing that the flight attendants don’t want to take over running the airline. Maybe they ought to think about pursuing another line on work. Then again, who would hire these malcontents. Pay me more so that I can do less!!

  2. @LennyD……I agree with you. Quite a few people I know in most other professions are very happy to remain at the same salary year after year. Who cares if you’ve worked somewhere for 20+ years. You need to make the same salary you made your first year. Also, your employer really should be getting rid of half the office and asking you to work their job while you’re at it.

  3. Let’s talk about the issue of federally mandated alcohol and drug tests. Are these useful? Do they demonstrably improve the safety of aviation? Or are they just a way to placate the puritanical morality police? As long as a flight attendant is not under the influence while on the job, what’s it to the rest of us?

    Some demands by the union (e.g. lowering insurance premiums) are effectively demands for higher pay. I concede I’m not enough of an economist to opine on those issues. But some other demands, like relaxed alcohol consumption rules, cost the airline nothing–beside puritanical moral indignation–to oblige.

  4. Maybe they should see about getting the pilots or mechanics union as allies. Management certainly doesn’t have their best interests at heart so building an alliance might help make more of their goals attainable.

  5. @Philz Coffee drinker
    True, in fact it FA’s were high on something we might actually get more enlightened service. Or at least they would be less delusional about being a security team or first responders. They would chill with passengers and enjoy a bit.

  6. Considering 20% of the population has a problem with drugs or alcohol I think it’s a good idea to drug and alcohol test those in the airline industry just like truck drivers, nuclear power plant operators and other key jobs.

  7. @Stuart….actually we finally agree on something. Had the F/As been on something, they could have just chilled and hung out with the passengers during that recent lithium battery fire reported in the news. Since they’re not first responders, as you say, I’m sure the guy with the smoking battery would have found the containment bag, properly operated it and had the fire extinguishers staged and ready. I’m sure that he would have handled the problem quite well. He actually may have had a few people jump up to find the bag and start reading the directions for him. The F/As could have just continued reading their magazines in the back galley. Plane would have landed safely and everyone would have been just fine. Hopefully he wouldn’t have forgotten to communicate it all to the cockpit while he was busy with the battery. You really might be on to something here. A serve yourself inflight service while the F/As chill with their lovely glasses of Chardonnay or my favorite, gin martini. Shaken not stirred.

  8. What does it mean to “have a problem” with drugs? Absolutely not 20% of the population that would be interested in being a flight attendant has a drug habit that would interfere with job duties. I don’t mind an FA popping pills at a rave, as long as they’re sober by their next flight.

  9. Since labor agreements in the airline industry do not expire but become amendable, United can drag this out for a VERY long time.
    Sad reality of the airline industry and labor – but there are ALWAYS no shortage of people wanting to be flight attendants.

  10. I am all for the International Pursers having actual authority. I’m a current International Purser, and it’s so frustrating when FAs won’t listen to me when I tell them to take they AirPods out, stop watching movies when it’s not their break time, no sitting in the last row when the flight is empty, that the mid-flight service is mandatory, crew meals must be included in with customer counts, etc.

    If the purser had real authority, United would be a wonderfully customer-focused airline. It’ll never happen on AFA’s watch though. I miss the days of being an International Service Manager at Continental; while still not management, the position was much more respected by colleagues, and was much more performance-based instead of seniority-based.

  11. Stop watching movies off break? What does it matter as long as the work is getting done? You sound like you’d be a nazi if you had more control.

  12. As a United FA, I am concerned that this article portrays us as lazy malcontents. All we are asking for is a living wage and reasonable work rules. What the public doesn’t understand is that when I’m on duty for 12-13 hours, I may only get paid for 5 of them. I’m hourly, not salaried. 80% of the time I’m not given the supplies I need to provide the service required and suffer the brunt of disgruntled passengers because of it. When the company asks us to jump, we do, but to what cost? The duty restrictions we are asking for are such so we can do our job safely and properly. To be required to “be on call” for 24 hrs and at the 22nd hour to be assigned a trip that has you working another 6 hours without a break is inhumane. These are a few “restrictions” we are asking for. It’s not as crazy as this article is portraying.

  13. @Jane Doe — I’m also an International Purser and it’s not about being a control freak or a Nazi. Working flight attendants NOT on their crew rest break need to be situationally aware. If they are listening to music or watching a movie with ear phones or air pods on, then their situational awareness in the cabin is greatly diminished. They cannot hear the flight deck calling for a bathroom break or passenger call buttons going off in the cabin…which could be going off due to a medical emergency or a security issue. F/A’s can watch movies during their crew break or while on a layover, but not while actually on duty. This is GOOD policy.

    @ FSL Flyer — I set very clear expectations during crew briefings and rarely have the issues you’ve mentioned. To be fair, the current Purser selection process at UA is not a seniority-based selection process.

  14. @Jetsetter… the traveling public and the author of this article have zero knowledge on the entire negotiations process.. I’m definitely not wasting my time in trying to educate them, as it’s a lost cause.
    I’m also international Purser for UA, and these comments here mean nothing.. we both know that by the time we get a tentative agreement, it will look completely different than the first opening proposals, as we now have.

  15. Apparently this blog is only being published for, and read by International Pursers, lol. May as well just be an extension of Galley Gab.

  16. The author obviously does not understand the railway labor act nor contract negotiations.

  17. A cherry-picked article that does little to paint an accurate picture. Maybe spend a little more time collecting a complete set of facts before putting pen to paper. This makes it sound like attendants just want to drink more. #lame
    Maybe study the history of how the FAs have had their pay, work rules and retirements decimated. Fun fact, the FAs would need $17/hr (per flight hour) raise today just to make the same hourly rate as pre- bankruptcy. That’s right, no raise in over 25 years! Yet UA has repeatedly exercised $billions in stock buybacks year after year. The same FAs that worked through the pandemic, losing family and coworkers and suffering are long overdue to get a raise and a return of some of the health and safety rules that were once in place pre bankruptcy.

  18. It may not have been your intent, but when you pick some points over others, that’s called cherry-picking. You left out wanting to take away life insurance benefits if an FA happens to die while on disability. Do you understand how toxic/carcinogenic the job is? Radiation, Aerotoxic Syndrome from exhaust fumes, , PBDEs from fire retardants, pesticide spray residues, circadian rhythm disruptions from abnormal scheduling. So many FAs get cancer and die and it’s usually while on disability! But, yeah talk about FAs wanting relaxed restrictions on drinking (without context). I stand by my comment.

  19. Dear Gary, I’m glad most of my coworkers can be civil to you. As for me, I’ll do what hurts you most and stop reading your half-assed, poorly written, garbage. If you can’t be factual here, where and when will you ever be factual? I’m sorry but I do not, nor have I ever had a company issued phone. I won’t open another link from your site. Which means I won’t see any of the advertising. I just don’t see the point of you or your “content”.

  20. @FSL Flier,
    You sound like such an angry, frustrated, bitter thing. It probably comes through at work and perhaps is why your crews don’t have any respect for you.
    I hope you’re able to retire soon. I heard they want to mess with CARP. You should consider sending in your paperwork.

  21. Your reference to the phone is ignorant. Cell phone service is unreliable or non existent in several of our based below the concourse, surrounded by concrete (EWR, LGA, LAS to name 3). If we are expected to be available for contact, and company property lacks cell service then we need a phone to meet the expectations of management.

    Your article is so biased towards management it’s obvious you aren’t impartial. You have an axe to grind for whatever reason and you’re taking out on 25,000 people, inaccurately portraying them. There are many onerous things on managements want list you just glossed over. How about you try working 6 segments in an 18 hour day with 10 hours rest (calculated from when we walk off the ac at the end of the day until we return the next).

    Did you read the RLA article, talking about how on average negotiations take 2 1/2 years? How about the pilots going on 4+ years? Did you reach out to the union to ask any questions? Did you consider any of that in your inaccurate portrayal of flight attendants?

    There are dozens of other points I could make. Go educate yourself on the facts and be unbiased and accurate. It’s shameful what you’ve written.

  22. So respnding to @wantwantsright … first, the blogger who wrote this ( they are actually not a journalist) will spin this to get more clicks. The more clicks, the more they make. I am a journalist who happens to work for United.

    The others who paint a picture of lazy flight attendants are av-geeks who love to express their passion for submissive Singapore Girls… don’t be distracted by this, ‘not in the industry and their views mean nothing.’

    These people are not involved and will have no effect on United, the AFA and negotiations, these are nobody’s.

    Keep you emotions in check because what United put out for a proposal is nothing more than a false flag… which means they have no intentions of the membership accepting these proposals.

    This is just a game and we cannot become emotional about it.

    Now in regards to the others who commented about lazy and surly flight attendants. These are men, who are retired in most cases, who want to fly first class, cannot afford it and want subservient women whom they can fantasize that will fulfill their kinks.

    Times have changed, this is a career and it doesn’t work that way in America.

    Perhaps the men who are hiding behind their handles, should move to another country. I think nearly all of you have nefarious intentions and it’s disgusting.

  23. “They want the purser to have actual authority on the flight, and not to be assigned merely by seniority. This would be.. .amazing.”
    This is actually just not true. To be an international Purser (the pursers they want to be able to replace with management)
    You have to apply and go through a special training program. The application in the interview process is not seniority based.

  24. It’s all a shit show. Instead of the union and United working on the top 5-10 items that impact the flight attendant group and pay they chose to rewrite the entire book. AFA needs to go and United management that worked on this proposal needs a reality check. Meanwhile what’s next? Sara is going to enact her 1980s union strike mentality and tell flight attendants to be loyal and stand in solidarity with red pins. United is going to tell everyone to continue focusing on customers service and the “first responders in the air” get shafted with over complicated work rules and Daddy Diaz’ trying to micromanage every aspect of the flight attendant life.

  25. @gary leff

    There is a lot of context missing when you’re not involved in the negotiations. Even something small like having telephones in base is vitally important eventhough everyone has a cell phone.

    This summer when crew had no way to get in touch with our own company due to hold times regularly exceeding 5 hours- the landlines in the bases were the only hope to get through quicker to resolve scheduling, transportation and hotel issues. It is like being held hostage to your employer on your own unpaid time when you are not allowed to leave the airport until you speak with someone, but to speak with someone you will have to wait several hours. It was a nightmare.

  26. Such BS, management always has same argument. Crying poor so typical. After we went through the challenges of COVID and all the crazy passengers that came with it, and this is there attitude. God does it ever change? Take care of your people and will not have to worry about how your passengers concerns because there will be none. Common Sense !!! They should teach this at Harvard Business School, but they refuse to. Anti union pigs.

  27. We are not anti-union. We are capitalists and when some non elected, ill-chosen people that are past their expiration dates both at AFA and at United Inflight get in the way of my ability to make money (which is why we work)… that’s where I draw the line. We are not wearing a red pin, we are not standing in solidarity with someone that gets in the way of providing the best for our kids by maximizing our pay and we are not standing behind paper pushing policy jugglers that haven’t worked these jobs in eons that sit behind a desk telling us to smile more.

  28. I’m a United Flight Attendant (Intl. Purser out of SFO) and I absolutely support proposal of the International Purser program being replaced by a management Purser program. United’s onboard service would be wonderful. Currently it’s so hard to ask Flight Attendants to do something so simple such as being in uniform compliance. Take note: I fully support my AFA union. However, I think this would forever change United’s future and fly us into an upward and onward bright future. Many UAL Flight Attendants would absolutely welcome this in exchange for improved work rules or an increase in pay. Negotiations is about give and take and having management Pursers would be refreshing and amazing.

  29. @Ms.Anonymous why on earth would you want our management in a purser position? In base management is a joke. Managers are being hired off the street with absolutely no experience in aviation or customer service. It would be an extremely poor decision on the company’s part to put a power hungry former dog walker in a purser position.

  30. @flyer1 and @LennyD am shocked that you think anyone should continue at the same pay they made in year one of their careers. My first year as a flight attendant I made $13,000. That’s poverty level. And you believe that I can survive on that?
    Unfortunately the real public has no idea what flight attendants go through on a daily basis. We work with broken toes and fingers, torn rotator cuffs and muscle strains, I even worked on a broken ankle all with a smile on my face to fill your endless glass of wine, flush the toilet you can’t figure out and listen to your demeaning remarks. I would truly love for both of you to experience an entire day as a flight attendant. Wake up at 3am to catch a 4am van to the airport. Work a 14 hour day on your feet with people yelling at you, pushing you, kids screaming, dogs pooping in the aisle, performing CPR on a passenger in the galley, cleaning up vomit, the list goes on. Then you finally get to the hotel so you can hopefully have six hours to sleep before you start the entire sequence over again. If a flight attendant is sitting in the galley to read a magazine, which by the way…who reads magazines in 2023…it is to decompress and have a few minutes to gather ourselves before we put the smile back on and face the flying public again. I would assume in your careers you take breaks and eat meals?? Why aren’t we allowed to do the same?

  31. Gary, you have no idea what you’re talking about. In what other hourly profession does a person work for free? Do they get paid hour for hour when they are hourly workers? Hate to break it to you but that’s not the way f/a’s get paid. When I’m on duty for 16 hours (are you?) and only getting paid 5 hours, do you think that’s a good thing? Do you think it’s fair or that I could evacuate a group of 200 should the situation arise? Read up on the flight attendant work rules and then write an article with fact! Shameful article!

  32. Incorrect information and lack of knowledge in the position clearly. Horrible article. Next…. Flight position hours are completely different from a normal job. Flight attendants can easily shut down an airport. Flight attendants are the biggest asset to an airline. They are the face of the company. Lack of knowledge in this article for sure. Flight attendants deserve a lot better and are def overworked. Good job to this union for fighting for what’s well deserved for a long time.

  33. Dear Gary
    Your personal views are not from the AFAs page.Please brother.
    You forget to mention don’t get paid for boarding don’t get paid more on national holidays get only 3hrs of vacation pay instead of 8hrs like everyone else don’t get paid extra working on Sundays etc etc.
    So go back do your homework and then rewrite the article without your biased personal opinions.

  34. Curious… why does the author think replacing Pursers with management would be a great idea?

  35. Hello
    Reading the. Comments shows how very frustrated we all are with management, ALL of the unfairness we witness…. Let us remember to be on the same team or we will never accomplish anything. Our union needs out support… the only way to get what’s due and fair from the next contract is to get on the same page and support what we have. I’ve listened to a lot of nonsense on here and some very good points. Let keep it real. We don’t need management on board as pursers. We need to respect our jobs and the pursers we have. That would solve the onboard issues…. Hey we all have some of the same people at out family reunions. We just tell um, especially if they need some special briefing. It’s not only up to the purser it’s up to ALL of to be professional. Not doing so makes us all look bad and worthless to the company. We want raises and benefits and we deserve them. The company is treating a lot of us horribly. Well let’s act on it.., police yourself and be safety conscious. That is for your flying partners as well. How dare you not be safety conscious. It’s your safety also. Pursers only have so much time to brief. “ALL” flight attendants are pursers. Fir example what happens when the purser shows up and no one is so called “qualified”? Someone will be purser with less pay. Let us look at those type of things… We are indeed ALL pursers. Let us respect whomever is assigned the role and simply do our jobs. Let us fight for what really matters. Our reserves work like hired horses! No it’s not fair. All of the segments built by algorithms to build or trips. That’s what be sounding off about. Have personal pride in your uniform. Don’t be sloppy because your upset with the company…. You are lowering your worth…Take personal pride. Pursers should not have to tell you this. Remember you are and are fully capable of being purser at any given time. We do not need my on board for ANYTHING. Stop writing each other up. Have that talk. Act like it’s that in famous person at the family reunion… We all have um. I don’t see much of this on the air craft realizing bad news travels quite guick.. most of us work out butts off STILL LIKE PASSENGERS and our fellow flying partners. We are family. We need each other up there in the air. You guys know your jobs. Let’s get on solidarity with the union we now have and work toward a more improved contract!!!! Gosh I love my job still and I recommend any who doesn’t to just quit. Your np good to the rest off the family. We have to go behind you and make nice. For all of the passengers while you avoid work or give poor service. This falls on the rest of us. Passengers are too afraid to ask you for. anything. Treat these people like they are paying our salaries. Treat the SA’s with dignity and respect also… we all all SA’s as well. Let us all take pride in what we do. Do well ad demand and better contract yesterday. Let’s show we are worthy., because we are. In solidarity fly safe…. Work hard play even harder…..

  36. Gary Leffs credibility as an airline blogger is pretty low, especially when it comes to anything concerning United. He’s a hard core shill for Southwest. He’s not worth reading anymore.

  37. Maybe if the company wasnt runnung flight attendant into the ground, you’d have better service. They are being used and abused. You failed to mention the want 18 hour duty days domestically and 22 internationally! You also failed to mention they want to take away life insurance benefits if you used disability before death. Starting pay is $28 for 78 hours a month: that’s less than minimum wage. Also, consider the bases are some of the highest cost of living areas, yet FAs should be paid “the same” for 20 years?!? No Thankyou. They also don’t have job growth like other careers. A 20 year does the same as a 3 year yet the trips vary by seniority. Maybe if passengers weren’t so rude all the time, the service would be better. Imagine 6 legs a day with up to an hour boarding and none of that being paid. That’s 6 hours out of an 18 hour day not being paid. I think it’s fair to ask for boarding pay.

  38. Lenny D you are lost! As a FA for over 30 plus years it’s obvious you have no concept of the world economics and our work ethics. Get a clue , I say with all due respect

  39. Half of the management team arw not actually flight attendants and they don’t know anything about flying. The other half have no answers to questions ypu ask them because they know nothing. I agree everyone should have an opportunity to be Purser. It better for the company.
    All they need to do is increase the purser pay and give said employee more authority. They could save more than hiring overpriced management to do the same job

  40. Flight attendants can shut down an airline? Are you delusional? Pilots with no fight attendants? That flight is cancelled! We need each other, they can only fly an empty plane without us…I find your post ridiculous and you obviously are clueless

  41. As a former Inflight Supervisor and F/A Supervisor for Continental back in the 1970s, I am definitely on the side of the Flight Attendants. Maybe a couple of their demands are a little much, but that’s what labor negotiations are all about. The company also has some demands that make me shake my head. So many changes for Flight Attendants in the past fifty years, and these changes have been anything but good. For example, being paid only when the door closes is ridiculous. F/As have to put up with much more than we did back in the day and I support them to the fullest!

  42. I finally returned from a flight from only one time zone away. Yesterday I was stuck in Denver because United couldn’t get a set of Flight Attendants to work our flight from there to our destinations. The rumor floating around was that due to the stuck negotiations, groups of FAs called in “sick”. United showed us customers how cheap they were with accommodations at lowest price level and only $15 in a food voucher. I’m a Federal Employee and I think that the GSA Per Diem rate should apply for passengers stuck due to the airlines fault. The whole thing was unnecessary. I would have accepted my flight yesterday without Flight Attendants and that would have proved how necessary they aren’t. Both sides are wrong and now they are hurting passengers. Shame on both of you.

  43. The international pursuer position needs to go, those commenting on here are the reason. You don’t need to be on a plane. Your attitudes and controlling mentality are what kill customer service. SWA has the best customer service, fun environment and has no pursor or f/a controlling another. If you want to be a manager go to HQ in Chicago! If you don’t like how people work take a good look at your hiring process. Micro managing does bit solve problems.

  44. No one cares what you use to do at Continental, it obviously didn’t work because you were bought out!

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