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.
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.
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.
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:
- Cut their pay
- Tell them their work is not valued
- 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.
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.
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