American Airlines Reducing Staffing On Many Flights

Filed Under: American

American Airlines is reducing flight attendant staffing on many flights, and the flight attendant union isn’t happy about it.

American’s reduced flight attendant staffing

American Airlines management has notified the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) of plans to change staffing levels on specific aircraft and routes, beginning in October.

This applies to certain aircraft operating premium and international long haul routes (in other words, when these flights operate most domestic routes, they already have reduced staffing).

The timing of these staffing cuts coincides with American Airlines furloughing 8,100 flight attendants as of October 1, as the airline plans to reduce its headcount by a total of around 40,000 people.

What changes should we expect to flight attendant staffing levels?

  • On Boeing 777-300ERs, flight attendant staffing will be reduced from 13 people to 11 people, with the purser having to work in both first class and business class, and galley flight attendants also having to work in aisles
  • On Boeing 777-200s, flight attendant staffing will be reduced from 10 people to nine people, with galley flight attendants also having to work in the aisle
  • On Airbus A321Ts (used for premium transcontinental flights), flight attendant staffing will go from six people to five people, with the purser working the first class cabin alone, with some help from an economy flight attendant once the main cabin service is complete

There aren’t staffing changes to other narrow body aircraft, and that’s simply because they’re already staffed at FAA minimums, which requires one flight attendant per 50 seats on the aircraft (in other words, since a 737-800 has between 150 and 200 seats, it needs four flight attendants).

Staffing is being reduced on American’s A321Ts

The union isn’t happy about these changes

The APFA disagrees with proposed staffing changes, claiming it assigns an unreasonable workload to flight attendants. The union says it wasn’t consulted with these changes, and thinks it’s very unfair for this to be done during challenging times. As a result, the union will be filing a Presidential Staffing Grievance.

American Airlines management, meanwhile, claims that these changes are critical for a return towards profitability for the company.

The union claims this creates an unreasonable workload for flight attendants

Are these staffing changes unreasonable?

Obviously it’s really unfortunate how many flight attendants are being furloughed. Not only are a lot fewer flights operating than in the past, but those flights that are operating will be staffed with fewer flight attendants. Even those flight attendants not being furloughed will likely be getting significantly fewer hours, and therefore will be earning less money.

That being said, I simply don’t buy the argument that this in any way creates an “unreasonable workload” for flight attendants:

  • A vast majority of long haul flights have very few passengers, with most revenue coming from cargo
  • American Airlines is offering significantly reduced service — even in premium cabins meals are served on one tray, and there’s no service differentiation between first and business class

American is serving premium meals on a single tray

Heck, on the long haul flights I’ve taken since the pandemic started, the only workload issue I’ve heard flight attendants complaining about is that they didn’t have enough to do.

For example, when I flew Lufthansa from Montreal to Munich, there were more flight attendants than passengers in business class, so the purser just told one of the flight attendants to go to the back of the plane and look out the window.

While that won’t always be the case, it is the case more often than not right now. For example, looking at American’s flights to London for today, the seatmaps suggest the following number of business class seats are taken (seatmaps are never a 100% accurate indicator of loads, but they do give you a general sense):

  • Five of 52 business class seats are occupied on the Miami to London flight
  • 11 of 52 business class seats are occupied on the New York to London flight
  • 16 of 52 business class seats are occupied on the Dallas to London flight

American’s 52-seat 777-300ER business class cabin

Now, of course I think it’s worth acknowledging the concern that this cut is being made now, and when demand recovers and more inflight service is added, flight attendant staffing won’t be returned to previous levels. That could be a problem long-term, but I also think we’re a long ways off from that being something that needs to be addressed.

Bottom line

American is reducing staffing on premium and long haul flights. While I feel bad that this will translate to even less work for flight attendants, the reality is that there simply isn’t a need for more flight attendants right now.

Long haul flights are overwhelmingly empty and onboard service has been reduced, so you simply don’t need as many flight attendants as you used to.

Down the road this could be a problem once demand recovers, should staffing not be restored.

What do you make of American’s reduced flight attendant staffing?

  1. Totally makes sense for the unions to be unhappy, but considering how few passengers are in the premium cabins, it makes sense for American to reduce FA’s.

    They not only have to pay additional FA’s, they also have to pay for their hotels so it all adds up.

  2. What part of this surprises anyone today? First it’s Parker at his best never let a crisis go to waste. Second it does reflect the current market conditions which will take sometime to find its level. Now what one needs to really wait and see is just how the FF programs fare with the majors hypothecating or leveraging them to raise cash. At some point the CC companies are going to look for their return and I guarantee you it won’t be in our favor. These offers to see us points at a discount is “fools gold”.

  3. “Now, of course I think it’s worth acknowledging the concern that this cut is being made now, and when demand recovers and more inflight service is added, flight attendant staffing won’t be returned to previous levels.”

    This is the most important statement in the article…U.S. carriers already have such a bad reputation, in part because of past staffing reductions…This will only add to that in the future…

  4. I know their job can be hard but come on. 30 years ago a New York to Chicago flight would have received a full dinner service in coach. Imagine needing to serve 100 plus meals, a beverage service and clean up within about an hour’s time. Some of these younger flight attendants that spend most of the flight playing with their phones would have never made it back in the day when flying wasn’t akin to riding on the NYC subway.

  5. This is not unexpected but the number of jobs that will be lost in the airline industry is staggering. It will indeed take years to return back to normal. I am sad for all those who won’t be able to find a job given the general condition of the economy.

  6. @ George I agree with you. I remember the full B747 with 422 meals (844 double catered) JFK-SJU with less than a two hour service. Now they complain about passing out “snacks” as passengers board!

  7. Love all the Sofa comments on how easy the flight attendant job is when. Traveling 400,000 miles a year does not make you or anyone else an expert on the job. Where are the comments on doing the same job with less people on board, how about short layovers that barely get you any sleep after being on duty for almost 12 or more hours and 5 flights, being away from home for 3 or 4 days at a time, dealing with angry passengers that think they know everything, don’t want to keep their masks on, or complain about not getting their choice of meal, or spit at you. Or how about saving your mom on board while she has a heart attack, or experiencing a diabetic shock, or your laptop battery starts smoking at 30,000 feet, someone suffering from anaphylactic shock, helping you dig your claws off the armrest while trying comforting your inconsolable self when the airplane hits severe turbulence, oh, how about getting your know it all self out of the airplane safely and within seconds when it just happens to land on 1 wheel and spins off the runway, while you are screaming like a little girl trying to get your luggage containing your carefully researched airline review off the airplane? I could go on and on but next time you guys write articles or comments, do some research, or at least talk to a few actual flight attendants. Mindless comments are a dime a dozen and pretty much useless, much like millions of other Armchair Quarterbacks out there!

  8. @ AR — I have a lot of respect for what flight attendants do and don’t at all think it’s an easy job. I wouldn’t last as a flight attendant for a day. But that doesn’t change my stance on this particular issue.

    For example, please do let me know which 777-300ER or A321T trips you’re working that have five flights in a day. The staffing cuts here aren’t to domestic trips, which I do largely think are getting more grueling, and which I’d consider to be very difficult.

    We’re talking about long haul and premium transcon flights here, and the facts remain. There are a lot fewer passengers, service has been reduced, and for the most part, layovers aren’t shorter (MIA/DFW-LHR continues to have a roughly 24 hour layover).

    Please let me know what I’m missing?

  9. Staffing will never be restored, that’s the point. Yes now it is likely necessary for reduced spending and with light loads it won’t matter much. But when we see full loads again everyone will suffer except for the profits column.

  10. KEYWORDS: Once demand returns the company will not return the crew complements.

    The reason why the union is so unhappy about this is because the company will not return the crew complements once demand returns and long haul/premium routes will be full again. The reason why is because they will use it against the union as a bargaining chip/negotiation tool. That in order to return to pre-covid crew complements, they’ll want the union to give up something else. So it’s gonna be a lot of fighting and sacrifice for the union to regain the crew complement. This has happened time and time again. Whatever the company takes away, they will not return it back easily. May even take a decade, if the union and company can’t agree on negotiating that. Because the company will definitely want something else very valuable to be given up in exchange.

  11. @AR… Kudos for your comment… Lucky, as always, is off base here… He’s only worried about which champagne will he receive and if his blanket will be refreshed after his bathroom pause… It’s easy to be critic about someone else job when you aren’t the one doing it…

  12. @ Rafael — You don’t read this blog very carefully…

    a) If I only cared about having my champagne and blanket refreshed, wouldn’t I be mad about this change and want more service?
    b) I’ve repeatedly said that I think people are off base for having high expectations of service right now, and quite to the contrary, I’m fine with airlines offering very limited service at the moment to maximize the amount of time people spend with their masks on.

  13. @Lucky… One just need to read your blog before the Pandemic to have my point justified… British Airways in Club World, for instance…

  14. @AR, Do you truly believe a FA role is demonstratively more difficult/unpleasant than other customer facing roles in a world where treating other people badly seems to an emerging Olympic sport? If so, perhaps a career change might be healthy. Anyone that can navigate the space between AA management and the general public would seem to have transferable skills that are well applied in many fields, likely at equal or better pay. As for long haul FAs being overworked compared to other service sector employees, it is not visible to me.

  15. Ben, thank you for the quick response. And thank you for saying you respect the work… I don’t have any 777 trips that have five flights in a day. But there are many job assignments that do… I tried to convey something other than loads, or required service, and wether that really needs as many crewmembers. I was talking about the Ill perceived sentiment that a flight attendant job is simply attributed to the number of passengers on board verses serving a snack or not. The picture is much bigger than that. Flight attendants are trained every year in fire-fighting, life saving, evacuation, equipment use and location, decompression, self defense, and many other things, some I can’t discuss here. Suffice to say, yes handing out snacks sometimes too. FAA requires a minimum number of flight attendants on each specific type of aircraft for safety reasons, not service reasons. Most airlines now are already down to FAA minimums for a large number of flights and can’t go lower. And yes its a dilemma for all airlines to try and stay alive, airlines right now are pretty much gnawing at the bone trying to stay alive and keep the country moving forward in this dilema, just look at all the leaves, furloughs, and voluntary exits that have occurred up till now, and moving forward (or backward in reality) in October with congress still in a coma, how many thousands of jobs will be evaporating (and confirmed to be evaporating), add them up from all the numbers announced by just the three majors. Now its even worse since congress has failed to pass a bill to prevent these layoffs, yet they want to travel on airlines to get their mail on time, and on their first class seats to their seats in congress after their vacations… Fact is, the solution to the airline industry woes is not lowering the number of trained safely professionals on board, that may currently be a band-aid solution out of desperation right now, but Airlines desperately, and I mean desperately need a long term solution, probably past a vaccine, to fix all the damage that is currently being done. And yes, this is not the only industry being affected, but its is an important infrustructure backbone of the country as well as an essential industry that must be protected or the country will suffer the negative consequences. With the slow deterioration of the airlines will come a slow deterioration of everything those airplanes carry. That was my point. I apologize if I didn’t get my point across effectively. I was trying to shed light on a much larger picture tied to the reason Airlines are pulling out bandaids right now which I took to be the central point of the article. Congress needs to get off their First Class turkey croissant filled butts and extend the payroll support program, at least until a vaccine comes out, or the damage to the long term contributions of Airlines in this country will be permanently damaged, thereby damaging the country as well.

  16. @MiamiorBust… Thanks for your contribution… As far as difficult/unpleasant customers are concerned, actually yes, I do believe an FA role is demostratively more difficult than other customer facing roles. Lets an example. A passenger on high on cocaine starts abusing another customer, (at 30,000 feet). Approach and deal with the customer, now it takes two crewmembers because the hallucinating passenger is being violent and threatening, despite calls for law enforcement officials, nobody answers, try and restrain this 6’2″ passenger for the remainder of the flight, with no assistance. Do you think flight attendants just call the local ambulance, or squad car to come and handle this demonstratively more difficult/unpleasant situation? Think things like this don’t happen on airplanes?… think again.

    In over 3 decades i’ve seen it all and despite what you allege by your Olympic sport comment, i’ve received many awards for onboard service, and too many complimentary letters from passengers to even think of an accurate number, so my “navigation” really doesn’t need any movement from either side despite your politely placed suggestion. This however is not about me, but about a misperception of the job.

    Finally regarding your “long haul” comment, just serves to prove that you are failing to see the uniqueness of working in a tube 30,000 feet in the air traveling at more or less 80% the speed of sound, and bundling a confligration of being overworked with service general sector employees… No wonder it’s not visible to you, I hope now you can see a little bit of it now.

  17. Dear passengers:
    Treat us like a cocktail waitress without a tip and that’s what you’ll see.
    Trained safety professional.

  18. @George it’s funny because nobody seems to complain about the young flight attendants customer service. The ones with college degrees and know how to multi task. Serving 100 people in coach lol maybe try opening a text book.

  19. Lucky. The fa are not mad at the company, because of the reduction itself, but because they know thst once the company takes something away, it will never be given back, regardless if the profitability returns, or not. They don’t care. It will be more profitable, and then don’t wonder why the fas are moody, or why they do shortcuts on the service.

  20. Cheers to AR for his well put comments. FA staffing reductions are always risky due to the fact you have less FAs in the cabin to handle multiple emergencies at a time never mind diversionary behaviors that occur.

  21. Cocktail waitresses provide better service and don’t make $70/hr (yes that is their top pay band). “Overloaded” with work? With what passengers? On my flights the FAs make the first class food and go eat in back while us passengers don’t even get a beverage. It’s safe for them to make company food and eat it but not to give out a drink.

    For $50 a ticket IDGAC but labor is going to have to adjust on the pay said when no more business folks are paying 10x what they used to for a ticket.

  22. Really, the comment to me about college graduates says it all. First and foremost the comment is written so horribly that it’s nonsensical. So much for the idea that college graduates are actually “educated.”

    I said nothing about age and in fact on FT I’m constantly defending against this moronic idea older flight attendants bad, younger flight attendants good. When in fact some people aren’t cut out for the job or have unrealistic expectations. Like they will need to work their fanny off at times and maybe not get as much sleep as they’d like.

    I’m sure that when airlines recruit, hire and train they make it very clear as to how demanding the job of a flight attendant can be. If the job isn’t want someone wants to do in life than they shouldn’t take the job. Most flight attendants accept the demands of the job with the perks and do their best.

    The article is a bit misleading. The staffing cuts are for International flights in which the service is being cut and simplified which means less effort on the flight attendants.

  23. I agree that this will not make any tangible difference in the short term where passenger loads are so low to begin with. But the fact that they don’t intend to ramp it back up once loads improve is what the sticking point is/will be.

    As for flight attendants, I think part of the problem is they are so underpaid as a profession that it is hard to make a dedicated career anymore out of it.

    In fact I can think of few mid-tier professions that pay so little given how much is expected.

  24. AR, I love my job but let me tell you I work many hours myself and sometimes all night. It is part of my job. I am not in the airline industry. I have had a lot of times I do not even get paid for my work. Life is not easy. The FAA has rule hours. If you do not like the hours that are allowed for work then you need to contact your legislators and get it changed. But I have to agree if there is not the demand or revenue coming in cuts have to be made. I feel sorry for all who are loosing jobs, but is not just the airline industry that is loosing jobs. Even myself am seeing a change in my income and will continue to see this probably into the next few years. In the past I had below poverty income no one was there to help me. If you do not like the job then find a different one. Money does not grow on trees or fall from the sky. Our country is already in debt by at least 63,000.00 PER PERSON – MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD. Think about it. Everyone is going to be sacrificing now and in the coming years. Tell me how is this debt gong to be repaid?

  25. The fact if that matter is it’s a change in working conditions. So sit down and negotiate with the union what ever changes are necessary and in the process agree to “snap back” timeline and conditions. American, for far too many years, was good at taking concessions and then never returning things when conditions changed. They fight it for years and wouldn’t budge. I don’t think the union would be opposed to negotiating in good faith, something that AA had a bad history of.

    We also need to look at the new challenges that have reared its ugly head for customer service employees and have to remember that FA’s are dealing with these things at 38,000 feet. The number of nasty passengers is increasing daily.

  26. AR – I think your comments are out of touch with the economic realities of today.

    The airline industry has been crippled. There is no demand for business travel and the customers that are travelling are doing so on highly discounted fares. This will not recover for spring break in 2021. The offerings in premium cabins both internationally and domestically have been dramatically reduced. Flight attendants have less interactions with customers and meal services are compressed.

    Any carrier that fails to see this and fails to respond with reduced staffing levels, both on the aircraft and at the airport, deserves to go out of business. No carrier, including and especially AA is in a position to ignore the daily cash drain at their airline. Your union is unrealistic if they expect more than the FAA minimum staffing, which is not just 1 FA per 50 customers, but needs to also consider augmented staffing requirements for long haul flights.

    You might want to consider your competition. F6 has announced service to Europe in 2021, NK has picked up lots of service to central and south America, as well as Caribbean flying, and AA is competing with lots of other carriers in the domestic market. All lower cost options than AA, DL, UA and even WN.

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