Where did American Airlines go Wrong? – Why the Flight Attendants of this Once Iconic Airline have had Enough

Jackie began her career with American Airlines back in the 1970’s. She is part of a large group of flight staff that have committed their entire working lives to this airline.

Big problem though – this loyal employee is very unhappy and she is not alone.

At this point in time I believe the working Flight Crews at AA are so completely deflated, devalued and defeated that customer service and safety are at risk.

Surely every company knows that its greatest asset is its people, and none more so than those on the front lines – the face of the brand.

We have received so many negative reviews about American Airlines that we had to ask the question “Why?”

How does a company go from being the envy of other airlines, to being loathed by the very people that work for it?

To answer that question we need to look at a series of events that have happened over the last fifteen or so years at American Airlines.

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2001 Post 9/11

Don Carty bought Trans World Airlines out of bankruptcy court leaving AA with very little money.

After 9/11, American Airlines had plenty of cash but the then CEO Don Carty was determined to own Trans World Airlines.

(Update: Core parts of the acquisition of TWA occurred prior to 9/11, specifically in January and April of 2001 )

In 2001, that determination ended in the acquisition of TWA by American Airlines.

Although this move was meant to build a stronger and more profitable airline, it unfortunately occurred during difficult economic times for airlines and was the beginning of a slippery slope of losses and bankruptcies in the industry.

2003 Paycuts

After the airline lost 2.5 billion dollars in 2002, employees were forced to take pay reductions.

In April 2003, employees were asked to take a pay cut to avoid the company filing for bankruptcy.

The flight attendant group voted NO.

Sadly though, for the flight attendants, NO wasn’t good enough. When flight attendants voted NO 9842 to 9309 on April 15, 2003, American’s senior management and APFA’s leadership banded together and agreed to reopen voting. This resulted in a YES vote the very next day, one with fewer NO votes then the previous day even though the votes had already been tallied. When APFA couldn’t explain the voting anomalies, they declared the vote “tainted,” promising members a re-vote, a re-vote that was later reneged upon and replaced with the will of the company. The flight attendants’ voice was silenced completely. – Ref

Amazingly after reopening the voting, the yes votes outnumbered the nos and six-year pay cuts of between 16 and 23 percent were put in place, along with layoffs.

Shortly after that, it was announced that there were plans to pay huge bonuses to top executives. As you can imagine, this was received in poor taste after so many employees had been forced into accepting pay cuts.

The day after the airline’s pilots, flight attendants and ground workers first voted to accept the concessions packages, news reports revealed the company had secretly agreed to pay seven top executives bonuses worth millions of dollars if they stayed with the company until February 2005.
In addition, unbeknownst to workers when they were voting to give up tens of thousands of dollars apiece to “save” the airline, company directors last year had authorized setting aside $41 million for a special executive pension plan in a trust that would be protected from creditors in the event of bankruptcy. – Ref

Don Carty ended up resigning, however the wages were never restored.

The embattled flight attendants then spent years being reassured that they would eventually get their money back and were told they should just be patient.

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2011 American Airlines Files for Bankruptcy

The Airline had been struggling to make a profit and the outlook was also looking bleak.

American Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday to cut labor costs in the face of high fuel prices and dampened travel demand, capping a prolonged descent for what was once the largest U.S. carrier. – Ref

On Tuesday November 29th, 2011, American airlines initiated proceedings for a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Other major airlines had already gone through bankruptcies which had enabled them to reduce labor costs as a result.

American had not done this and therefore faced higher expenses than its competitors.

As a result of the bankruptcy, AA dropped retiree medical care and froze pensions.

We asked one of the flight attendants what that was like.

In 2011 when the company declared BK we did take another small paycut around 12%. Our pensions were frozen and we lost retiree medical insurance. We were in negotiations at the time they declared BK. The company came out with an offer called the Term Sheet. The company and the union then negotiated from the Term Sheet to get to the point of the LBFO- Last Best Final Offer. The LBFO then became the negotiating point for the CLA- Conditional Labor Agreement with US Airways. This is how the two airline workgroups were melded together before they negotiated our current JCBA-Joint Collective Bargaining Agreement. To negotiate the JCBA our current contract, the union used an adopt and go method other wise know as copy and paste. They took 85% of the US Airways contract and then a mixture of items from the LBFO, CLA, and out of thin air items to come up with what we were presented. We have not recouped any losses that we have taken through all of this.

2013 Merger of US Airways and American Airlines

US Airways and American Airlines merge in an $11 billion deal and create the world’s largest airline

This brings us to where we are today. American is now extremely profitable and experiencing record profits.

Now that the airline is back on track you can understand why the flight attendants would also like to share in the rewards that their hard work and sacrifice have attributed to.

How To Really Upset Your Staff

If you ever want to really upset an employee there are three things that you can do:

  1. Cut their pay
  2. Tell them their work is not valued
  3. Change their working conditions and take perks away

All three of these and more have been forced upon American Airline staff.

One of the most frequently mentioned events was when CEO Doug Parker stated (about profit sharing):

It’s just not the right way to pay 100,000 employees that don’t have that much impact on the daily profits.

He went on to explain what he meant, but it was too late. As soon as those words left his mouth the damage was done.

Merger = Change

One thing that needs to be pointed out, is that when you look at the hourly rate of a flight attendant you might think that compared to what most people earn it is a decent amount. However what brings their earnings down significantly is the fact that they are only paid gate to gate so it is rare for a flight attendant to be able to do more than around 15 hours a week of actual paid time.

With a merger between two companies there is always going to be change. Things you used to have, will go. Things you never had to contend with before will now be part of your everyday life.

One example of this is what the flight attendants call the hard 40.

At American Airlines the flight attendants have always had the luxury of fulfilling a yearly requirement for base hours. This means that in a rolling year they would have had to fly a certain amount of hours to maintain their job.

Flight attendants loved this, it mean’t they had the flexibility to fly as much as they wanted in one month, and then perhaps not much at all the next.

Bring on the new contracts however and this requires the flight attendants to fly a minimum of 40 hours a month, instead of a flexible schedule.

We asked the flight attendants about this:

The US Airways FA’s had a minimum hourly per month amount that they had to fly. The least of which was 60 hours. The American FA’s never had a monthly minimum. With the JCBA a 40 hour minimum was included. We started screaming and yelling and emailing everyone we could think of and the company came back and said they would remove the Hard 40 contingency and replace it with a yearly 520. Thus allowing us to keep our flexibility but they would get the work out of us they needed. The issue was, they would only remove it if we voted for the JCBA. The contract was voted down by 16 votes so they left it in and now refuse to take it out. You need to understand that our hours are only gate to gate hours so when we say 40 hours this is actual hard flying hours not the time it takes for us to be away on layovers and such. We don’t get paid for all of that. Also, the majority of us fly far beyond the 40 but we want the flexibility.

The company is saying that the computer will not accept a transaction that will take us below 40. Here is the issue, I wake up and I don’t want to go to work today for whatever reason. Now, I am out of sick time and it’s the weekend so I can’t reach my manager to ask for a personal day (we get two trip removals per year currently for personal days) so because of the Hard 40 I may be forced to fly when prior to the Hard 40 I would have been allowed to give my trip to another FA who wanted it. I could then choose to pick up a trip another day and never really loose time. Having this in our contract puts us at risk of having attendance problems where none existed before. The Hard 40 has been implemented on the US Airways side but not yet on the American side. We will get it when they start Preferential Bidding for us in March of 2017.

It has been reported to us that the scheduling system has also been linked to a substandard computer system which constantly crashes thus restricting trading even further.

Needless to say, where there is already a lot of bitterness and the feeling of being undervalued, additional stress from changes related to the merger are not welcomed by staff.

Union Turmoil

Some of the flight attendants feel very let down by their union (the APFA).

The previous APFA president Laura Glading was practically pushed out of her position as flight attendants were convinced that her relationship with management was too cozy and they did not believe that she acted in the flight attendants’ best interests.

Should Passengers be Concerned?

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability”. –Anne M. Mulcahy

If an employee thinks that their company doesn’t believe in them and doesn’t value them, then what’s the point in them putting effort into their job?

  • Why should they do any better than average?
  • What’s the incentive?
  • Why should they go out of their way to make sure that every last item on the tick list is completed before a flight takes off?
  • Why should they go the extra mile to make sure all passengers are accounted for, safely in their seats and buckled in throughout their flight?

Their motivation to be attentive to the needs of the passengers and the safety plan of the flight is directly related to how the management of the airline takes care of their needs and security.

It’s not that they stop caring, however when preoccupied with anxiety and feeling undervalued they simply struggle to operate at the highest level.

This can make it extremely challenging to be able to deliver the best customer satisfaction and fulfillment of their duties.

Where to from here?

We wait and watch. Can the management of American Airlines land this plane?

With so much bad blood in the past, unless the management of AA make a real effort to show the flight attendants how much the company values them, the bitterness will continue.

With flight attendants being the main contact point between flying passengers and the airline then it will eventually take it’s toll, as the passengers will miss out on experiencing the best of what the airline can offer.

We will watch with interest and can only hope, for the sake of both flight attendants and passengers, that the management of American begin to accept responsibility for mistakes that have been made.

Not only accept responsibility but additionaly work on a plan of real action to fix what has been broken – and right the wrongs of the past.

Can American Airlines turn things around with their employees? Only time will tell.

We want your stories. We are always looking for cases of employees that are being unfairly treated by any company – Please share your story with us.

Update: We have been advised that flight attendants are calling upon the US Department of Justice to investigate the negotiations behind their 2014 imposed contract.

RateMyCompanyUSA.com works hard to protect the privacy of the employees we tell the stories of. As such, names are changed where necessary. Thank you for understanding.

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Comments

Rob StGeorge

Co Founder of RateMyCompanyUSA.com

31 Comments

  1. Thank you, you’ve touched on some very true and sore subjects for us all. There are more, as stated by fellow comments above. We used to be Proud to come to work….. I’d just like to state …. It’s now like Wal-Mart bought the Neiman Marcus name, but it’s still Wal-Mart.

  2. I was hired in ’85 as part of the B-scale f/a’s. It took 10 years to make what the A-scale f/a made, doing the same job. Almost to the day of making the higher wages, A.A. had a hiring freeze a furlow of flight attendants, thus putting me on straight reserve, keeping my pay at a minimum. A few years later 9/11, then a HUGE pay cut to come a few years after that. By now my moral was at a low. Us “B-scale” flight attendants could never get a break. Due to my Mother depending on me taking care of her in the final days, and not being able to extend my family leave, I took early retirement in 2005. I have missed my fellow crew member mote than you know, but NEVER the mind games of management and the political corruption of the CEO’s and our UNION who I felt looked over their own best interest instead of the flight attendants they were suppose to be protecting. How can such a selfish comany as American Airlines have such wonderful & dedicated employees?! I think it is we always had hopes that things would change for the better, which it never did for me!

    1. That’s what they are hoping for: for you to have high hopes that they will change, so they will do to you bad over and over and over again. That’s why they do it. They’ll never change, and you did best to get out of there.

  3. At least you guys got a new connect after the merger, with pay raises. I’m a AMT and they won’t even start negotiations. Or moral is so low its embarrassing . we got the same raw deal you got, only worse. After accepting the give backs for bankruptcy, our union leader, Jim little gave away profit sharing with out us even voting on it, now record profits!! The TWU is the worst, by millions!!

  4. When your first “fact” in your list of “facts” is wrong, it’s hard to take the writer’s word for the other “facts”. AA did not buy TWA out of bankruptcy post 9/11. First, they purchased assets, but did not buy the airline. Second, the deal was struck some 9 months BEFORE 9/11.

    1. Hi Jen, My research showed that TWA became officially part of AA on December 1st, 2001, I didn’t dig around too much about when the deal was actually struck but thanks for pointing that out. TWA was bankrupt, and my wording and the level of detail could be improved absolutely. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your feedback.

      1. TWA Assets were purchase out of Bankruptcy Court. TWA was facing a muli-million dollar payment on a not to Carl Icahn for his tickets and such. That occurred in Jan 2001. The final approval came in Late March with the official closing as April 2001. They had already purchased TWA Assets, this was not the drain on cash as you represent. There was a recession starting and business travel was already slowing when 9/11 hit, 9/11 just sped up what was already happening.

        Second, while the AA operations system is antiquated, it is still one of the best systems out there. It DOES NOT crash regularly so once again you got the “facts” wrong.

        Third, while this article focuses on the FAs losing flexibility, AA is not in the business of hiring just so people can collect benefits from the company so they can pursue another line of work on the side. Many FAs work what they feel to be more lucrative jobs as real estate agents, sales people, etc out side AA. They want to put in the minimum so they can suck on the tit of AA for travel and insurance. Well AA is not a public utility. AA is a company that has profits/loss columns. The flight attendants need to decide which line of work is more important to them and what is their primary job, being a Flight Attendant or outside career. There seems to be just as much greed on the Flight Attendant and Pilots part as there is on the CEOs part. There are many people at AA who put in 40+ A WEEK, not 40 a month when they choose to do so.

        1. How DARE you Steve insinuate that flight attendants just work this job whenever they want. For the majority of us it has been our career. You sound like corporate AA who has been brainwashed and who value the front line employees very little. And don’t use such a sexist comment such as “suck on the tit.” I’m surprised your comment even got published.

          1. Thank you Melissa! You took the words right out of my mouth. Steve….your harsh judgemental comments about flight attendants is way off base. I do not know exactly how many flight attendants have taken on second jobs but I do know that the main reason is to supplement our deplorable pay cuts. With teenage children and aging sickly parents, a lot of us are forced to find extra work that allows us to be close to home and assists us with extra income while facing rising costs of living. It’s exhausting and far from what we wanted to do when we chose our dream job to be our lifetime career. You need an attitude adjustment and I need a chiropractor and a massage!

        2. Who wrote the above? AA management? Flight Attendants work long and hard hours. They get paid when the planes moves . There are many hours when f/as are sitting around on company time and aren’t getting paid. I worked for 40 years. I have seen working conditions deteriorate. I have seen management hell bent on union breaking. I have seen DP and his cronies line their pockets with money while airplanes flew with broken interiors. The company didn’t care about repairs. They only cared about the money they made. It goes on and on with disrespect for their employees and passengers. So don’t dare say f/as are taking advantage of AA. Shame on you.

  5. If there was any success following the American Airlines merger it was to line the pockets of its corporate executives. Jobs have been out-sourced to untrained personnel; passenger service continues to decline; and active employees, as well as retirees, have suffered. The perfect portrait of corporate greed and deceit. Thank you for pointing out their mismanagement.

  6. It is more demoralizing to have and then taken away with promise, than to never have had at all. American Airlines (whatever that means anymore ?), has culture issues to the bone, In my 32 years in the industry, Ive never seen anything like it, no less than epic hatred. In aircraft maintenance, the “beheadings” continue on a daily basis. The once pround maintenance bases of Kansas City, Alliance Ft. Woth, TASEL, have been or are in the precess of being permantly closed and walked away from leaving the key in the door affecting thousands of AMT’s, I travel around the country and visit stations were the percentage of displaced workers at each station is astronomical, some even living in trailers in the parking lot, then canabilizing each other to access the few seats left on a flight home to be with their families on their days off. Watching outsourcing facilities taking our work is as demorolizing as it gets, and then seeing my brothers and sister living a thousand miles away from home is absolute heartbreak. The resolve to all this is a rotten conclusion, most of us cant financially make sense of a “buyout”, so subsequently we stay on property, and continue to be frustrated to the end.

  7. Please also write about how AA screwed the mechanics, agents, ground crew and pilots. Parker/.Kirby are equal opportunity opportunists who don’t give a damn that pilots, for example anre being put up in sub-standard hotels, having pay docked if they call in fatigued due to onerous sequences and under-staffing. AA management may be making a lot of money but yes, their employees hate them & the company, with great justification. Many will not do one single thing past their required duties and who can blame them? Any company that doesn’t value their emplotyees and make them feel valued is idiotic. Unfortunately, P?K apparently don’t care about long-term service as log as they’re raking in the bucks. The chickens will come home to roost and I hope it’s very, very, soon.

  8. “If an employee thinks that their company doesn’t believe in them and doesn’t value them, then what’s the point in them putting effort into their job?

    Why should they do any better than average?
    What’s the incentive?
    Why should they go out of their way to make sure that every last item on the tick list is completed before a flight takes off?
    Why should they go the extra mile to make sure all passengers are accounted for, safely in their seats and buckled in throughout their flight?”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    This is a joke, correct?

    The system is what is is. You get what you negotiate not what you deserve. Deserve has got very little to do with it. Get involved to make a difference and attempt to fix what you can, but short of that, your job performance only reflects on one thing…yourself.
    People that predicate how much effort they expend based on how they feel about their bosses will never get it. Your performance reflects only on you. What is your legacy going to be? “I only gave the bare minimum because I did not like my bosses?”. Do your best every single time you go to work or find another path that will satisfy you. I can never comprehend those who justify marginal effort or performance because of how they feel about things outside of their control. In many ways this is what is wrong with much of America.

    40 hours per month for full-time benefits? Say it ain’t so…the tragedy of it all.

    1. Steve,Flight attendants 40 hours a month is not just 40 hrs. Flight attendants dont get paid for the hour to hour and a half they work before each flight nor for the half hour they work after each flight…thats just for starters. You mention flight attendants sucking on the tit of AA. I think you got that wrong. I think you might be sucking on DPs dick

  9. I would like to be enlightened from the experts in academics and the corporate gurus Why less than 5% of 7 billion humans control more than 80% of the global wealth.
    If not mistaken that 5% are believed to be part of the of the global airline industry
    God help us

  10. Yes, please do a version for the Mechanics. It seems like overtime we see a story on the employees the reporter only talks about the Pilots and Flight Attendants, I’m sure that plane can roll on a flat tire. If you do, please include perspectives from AMT’s that were part of an acquisition such as the TWA employees who have been treated unfairly by both the Company and the TWU! Yes someone will say “here’s another TWA crybaby” but it seems interesting when TWA took over Ozark, we dove tailed the seniority, not th TWU though, best union AA could by and still does to this day!

  11. talk about change seniority gone bye bye fcfs shoved down your throat with out a vote please tell me how the us f/a s benefited from this lets just say lmao

  12. This is the only article I have seen that is true and almost sheds the entire light on the matter. Thank you for putting it out there. A filing for the DOJ in DC will be done on Jan 13. I just wanted to add, that a heavily concessionary contract was forced on the flight attendants last year after it was voted down. During the most profitable times in history of all airlines, there should be no reason to take away work rules and benefits. It seems like a systematic beat down on the employees, trying to get more senior ones to quit in order to make this profession a job instead of a career and pay employees less. A large part of the demand for DOJ investigation is the flight attendant union constantly working for the company against the employees they represent. They have been consistently allowing the company to violate the contract and help the demise of the work group and seniority.

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