American Flight Attendants Prepare For Strike As Negotiations Fail

American Flight Attendants Prepare For Strike As Negotiations Fail

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The “big three” carriers in the United States have had quite a couple of years, with record revenue (though also record costs). This success is a bit of a double-edged sword for airlines, as many labor groups are also looking for huge raises.

While American Airlines pilots ratified a lucrative contract in August 2023, flight attendants are still waiting on a new contract. Current pay is so poor that new hire flight attendants qualify for food stamps in some states. Flight attendants voted to authorize a strike nearly a year ago, though they haven’t been released from mediation.

While negotiations have been taking place in recent weeks, there’s now some bad news — apparently negotiations have once again ended with no resolution, and flight attendants are being told to prepare for a strike. While we haven’t seen a flight attendant strike in the United States in decades, something’s gotta give here…

The basics of American flight attendant negotiations

American Airlines and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) have been in negotiations for a new contract for years. The two parties had started negotiations before the pandemic — as you might expect, that was put on hold for some time, given how the aviation industry changed in 2020.

Negotiations resumed in 2021, though around three years later, flight attendants still don’t have a new contract. The reason these negotiations are complicated is because flight attendants are demanding massive pay increases. We’ve seen a huge amount of inflation in recent years, and flight attendants want their new contracts to reflect that, along with retroactive pay.

Last year, American flight attendants voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. When flight attendants voted to authorize a strike, that didn’t mean a strike was anywhere close to happening. After all, they need to follow the procedures of the Railway Labor Act. A strike is only permitted if the mediation process fails, and then there needs to be a 30-day cooling off period before a strike could occur. Despite multiple requests to be released from mediation, that hasn’t yet been granted.

American’s management has promised flight attendants an industry leading contract. That promise was made before any other US airlines got to the point of approving a new contract, so that’s a bit of an empty promise.

We recently saw Southwest flight attendants ratify a new contract that sees them getting huge raises, plus retroactive pay. So if American management is serious about an industry leading contract, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out what that entails.

Union tells members to prepare for a strike

Up until now, American’s flight attendant union hasn’t been released from mediation, meaning they haven’t been able to start the 30-day clock on a strike.

In the past couple of weeks, negotiations have been ongoing, but they’ve finally once again stopped, without a resolution. The flight attendant union is once again pushing to be released from mediation, and is telling members to prepare for a strike.

Earlier in June, the union set up a strike command center, to answer questions from flight attendants regarding a strike. The union states that it will only present a contract to members that meets economic requirements, including retroactive compensation for five years of stagnant wages.

The union suggests that members make preparations for a strike, including setting aside money, considering moving up doctor and dentist appointments, refilling prescriptions as early as possible, applying for “union-friendly” credit cards that have provisions concerning payments in the event of a strike, avoiding “big ticket” purchases, and more.

The union set up a strike command center

Management got sneaky behind union’s back

It’s worth noting that back in early June, American Airlines CEO Robert Isom wrote a note directly to flight attendants, offering them a 17% pay increase effective immediately, with no strings attached. It’s pretty well written, and smart on management’s part:

The company and APFA negotiating teams have been meeting regularly for months to reach a new agreement. We have made progress in a number of key areas, but there’s still a good deal of work to be done.

We will be back at the table with APFA leadership next week and a deal is within reach, but I don’t know how long it will take to get to the finish line and I don’t want another day to go by without increasing your pay.

So, to get more money to you now, we presented APFA with a proposal that offers immediate wage increases of 17% and a new formula that would increase your 2024 profit sharing.

This means we’ve offered increased pay for all flight attendants and are not asking your union for anything in return. This is unusual. But these are unusual times.

If APFA agrees, the increase would be effective for the June bid month, and you would see the increased rates in your pay on June 30.

Importantly, this does not replace our commitment to get the deal done as soon as possible but gives each of you an increase in pay now. We are committed to reaching a new agreement and now is the time to make a deal.

The union wasn’t happy about management trying to communicate directly with flight attendants, rather than through the union. For that matter, flight attendants expressed their displeasure with management, and quickly rejected this proposal.

It goes without saying that presumably management had a motive here, beyond just being charitable. On the one hand, more money immediately with no strings attached would have gotten flight attendants some much needed money immediately. On the other hand, the intent here was clear — it was supposed to weaken the bargaining position of the union, and decrease the odds of them getting the contract that they want. After all, management would argue they already got a “reasonable” 17% pay increase, and that should be enough.

I’m curious to see the outcome of this

Let me start by saying that I think flight attendants work hard while not being paid particularly well. I wouldn’t last long as a flight attendant, because I’d lose my patience with the traveling public. While service is consistently inconsistent, there are so many flight attendants who do a great job, and they deserve these raises.

Here’s my take on these negotiations:

  • I can’t blame flight attendants for wanting more pay, and for negotiating for as much money as they can… who doesn’t want a raise?
  • The fundamental issue with flight attendant negotiations vs. pilot negotiations is that there was a pilot shortage, while there seems to be a never-ending pool of people who want to become flight attendants (which airlines always highlight, by claiming that getting hired as a flight attendant is more selective than getting into an Ivy League)
  • Even if there’s not a flight attendant shortage, the issue is that all the flight attendants belong to one union, so collectively they have quite a bit of bargaining power
  • Airlines are getting to the point where I think they have unsustainable cost structures, but I also can’t blame flight attendants for wanting pay raises when you have some pilots making $400+ per hour

Southwest flight attendants just got great new contracts with immediate 22% pay increases, and 3% pay increases in each of 2025, 2026, and 2027. On top of that, they received retro pay, which comes out to around $18K per flight attendant. You’d think that would set the tone for negotiations at other airlines…

Of course American’s fundamental issue is that the airline lags Delta and United when it comes to profitability. Like, American can barely afford these contracts, but that’s not really the fault of frontline employees. Go figure that the compensation for American’s CEO doesn’t reflect the company’s lackluster performance.

Bottom line

American Airlines is currently negotiating a new contract with its flight attendants, which has been going on for years. In the past couple of weeks, the two parties have been making what they claim is their final attempt at negotiating a new contract.

The union has now said that negotiations have failed, and is telling flight attendants to make preparations for the possibility of a strike. A strike could only happen if the union was released from mediation, and that would then trigger a 30-day cooling off period.

We literally haven’t seen a flight attendant strike in decades. So while it seems unlikely that a strike would happen, at the same time, it seems that there’s no other way forward…

How do you see this situation playing out?

Conversations (22)
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  1. Don Guest

    Some individuals post comments mentioning that the $31 million dollar salary for the individual in charge of AA is unfair while the entry level FAs are on public assistance. That is a valid point. Especially when AA is in some matrix, the least profitable airline of the "big three".

    The best way for AA FAs to earn support for their priorities in their new contract is to have the support of the customers. Unfortunately,...

    Some individuals post comments mentioning that the $31 million dollar salary for the individual in charge of AA is unfair while the entry level FAs are on public assistance. That is a valid point. Especially when AA is in some matrix, the least profitable airline of the "big three".

    The best way for AA FAs to earn support for their priorities in their new contract is to have the support of the customers. Unfortunately, based on personal experience of both myself and my spouse, they have not earned that support. This comment is NOT MADE LIGHTLY. While some FAs have gone above and beyond, their efforts have been eclipsed by other FAs who have been rude and distant. My wife has a very good heart, which is one of the things about her and why I fell in love with her. She would try to extend a warm word, or an olive branch, to the FAs that have been rude or distant. To her credit, some warmed up and were very nice.

    My wife, the customer, made the effort to change the experience, not the employee of the service provider.

    The FAs have the PR advantage because they are on the front line.

  2. Olivia Guest

    Give them their long overdue pay raise. Their CEO doesn't deserve $31M salary while their entry level FA is offered only $27K annual salary. Shame on AA! and YES! That's $31 Millions salary for 1 person. Ridiculous!

  3. Bill Guest

    Most Delta flight attendants make an effort to show you are a valued customer. Most AA flight attendants treat me like a nuisance. I fly first class with my own money. I pay more to fly Delta. They then have higher profits to share. Basic cause and effect lost on AA flight attendants. PS don’t seek a job that qualifies for food stamps if you don’t want to be on food stamps. Your poor choice is YOUR poor choice.

  4. DesertGhost Guest

    Bad-mouthing an employer the way many American flight attendants do would get most people fired from their jobs. Flight attendants make decent money, get to fly almost anywhere in the world on their customers' dimes, and all they do is complain about how bad they have it. But I have to be fair. Flight attendants perform a vital job, which isn't as easy as it seems. The bottom line is that I'm all for people getting paid well for what they do well.

    1. Just saying Guest

      A starting flight attendant makes 2K or less per month at AA do STFU unless you know what you’re talking about, thank you.

  5. Josh Guest

    At the end of the day the company has all of the power here. The US Government WILL NOT allow a strike to move forward during an election year! NO STRIKE, it's as simple as that people! Either work and love what you do or find a new job, simple as that! Also AA is not in the best of financial conditions and the ending of pilot hiring is not a good indication of the future.

  6. Tim Guest

    Ok when are we getting the official OMAAT guide to the most union-friendly credit cards?

  7. Ross Guest

    What is the retention rate for AA flight attendants? It's one thing to say it's harder to get the job than it is to enroll at Harvard. But five years later, how many are so fed up that they have moved on to jobs with better pay and working conditions?

    I want to fly on an airline with well-trained, experienced FA's who value their jobs, not just their hiring letter.

  8. Andy Guest

    @Alonzo - what pay raise have they asked for within a year? They haven't had a contract since 2019. Do you have any idea what you're talking about?

  9. Jackson Guest

    You get paid what your worth and AA flight attendants are worth garbage. Just look at how rude, lazy and totally trashy they are. Fire them all. Or let them bankrupt the airline and put them out of work by their own doing.

  10. Alex Guest

    LMAO at the "strike command center". Quick everyone look busy, we're taking a photo before our one day rental of a ballroom at the DFW Hyatt runs out.

  11. Manny Guest

    There is a FAA mandate for minimum number of FAs required for any commercial service by aircraft type.

    Otherwise if AA operated their flights without any FAs it would make the customer experience more pleasant.

  12. Alonzo Diamond

    Such greed. Only unions can sign a contract and then turn around and 1 year later demand higher pay because others in the industry are paying more.

    I'm all for more pay but this latest raise that AA will eventually receive will either directly impact customers or destroy AA and force them into bankruptcy by 2030. Let's not forget that this won't be the last pay raise. They'll ask for another in 3-4 years....

    Such greed. Only unions can sign a contract and then turn around and 1 year later demand higher pay because others in the industry are paying more.

    I'm all for more pay but this latest raise that AA will eventually receive will either directly impact customers or destroy AA and force them into bankruptcy by 2030. Let's not forget that this won't be the last pay raise. They'll ask for another in 3-4 years. Cheer pay raises all you want, soon FA's will be applying to Delta and United. Or gasp! Frontier!

    1. UncleRonnie Gold

      Meh, 3/5 of AA FAs are so old ,they’ll be dead in 2030.

    2. OCTinPHL Diamond

      “Such greed. Only unions can sign a contract and then turn around and 1 year later demand higher pay because others in the industry are paying more.”

      You know that the AA FAs have been operating under a contract that lapsed 4.5 years ago? Nothing was signed a year ago. But why let facts ruin your rant.

      Perhaps you are thinking of the AA pilots? And no, I’m not pro AA FA union or pilot union.

  13. Eb848 New Member

    This is a case where I have little sympathy for either the FAs or management. As a AA million miler, I fired the collective group of AA management and FAs a few years ago when I switched to UA. The combination of AA management and FAs created a miserable customer experience and it was time to let both of them go. The customer-focused solution would be to terminate both groups (senior management and FAs) and...

    This is a case where I have little sympathy for either the FAs or management. As a AA million miler, I fired the collective group of AA management and FAs a few years ago when I switched to UA. The combination of AA management and FAs created a miserable customer experience and it was time to let both of them go. The customer-focused solution would be to terminate both groups (senior management and FAs) and then hire back the 50% of the FAs who really do care, under a better contract in a relaunched airline.

  14. Santos Guest

    It's incredible in America how the C suite evades all the flak but the front-line workers catch all the fire directly.

    If you look at the compensation for AA leadership *and* their stated financial goals, it's easy to see this is an airline that is operating as a hedge fund that happens to just fly airplanes around.

    Look at what the AA board has approved for leadership in terms of compensation and reward...

    It's incredible in America how the C suite evades all the flak but the front-line workers catch all the fire directly.

    If you look at the compensation for AA leadership *and* their stated financial goals, it's easy to see this is an airline that is operating as a hedge fund that happens to just fly airplanes around.

    Look at what the AA board has approved for leadership in terms of compensation and reward models, then compare to the airline's competitive posture in the industry.

  15. Chase Guest

    At this point AA should just agree to all their demands and start pre-packaging the bankruptcy. The FAs simply don't get it. Unions are all for solidarity, until it comes down to money, then its each for itself in total competition. The pilots absolutely hosed the FA Union's position by raiding the AA vault (what's left of it anyways) in its latest contract.

  16. George Romey Guest

    Given how disruptive this will be and it's an election year government is going to step in. The economic and social impact will be too much for any administration. My sense is that flight attendants will get much of what they want and they eventually lose it in bankruptcy court.

  17. Sel, D. Guest

    Noticed them striking at LAX giggling like children blocking the sidewalk. One had a sign that read “Flight Attendants Save Lives.” I told her she’s not a nurse and the pilots took all their money. The shock on their faces was hilarious.

    Zero chance Feds release them before the election. Administration is only pro-union when it’s good for votes.

  18. Mantis Gold

    They deserve a raise? Really? All of them? What planet are you from? From my experience, the vast majority of AA FAs, especially the most senior ones, deserve to be looking for a new job. Here's a crazy idea: give raises to the ones who actually do a good job...you know, like the rest of the planet outside corrupt unions operates. Yeah I know, it would never work.

  19. MarkG Guest

    Nice. Fire them all. Probably the AF that offer the worst service.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Alonzo Diamond

Such greed. Only unions can sign a contract and then turn around and 1 year later demand higher pay because others in the industry are paying more. I'm all for more pay but this latest raise that AA will eventually receive will either directly impact customers or destroy AA and force them into bankruptcy by 2030. Let's not forget that this won't be the last pay raise. They'll ask for another in 3-4 years. Cheer pay raises all you want, soon FA's will be applying to Delta and United. Or gasp! Frontier!

3
Mantis Gold

They deserve a raise? Really? All of them? What planet are you from? From my experience, the vast majority of AA FAs, especially the most senior ones, deserve to be looking for a new job. Here's a crazy idea: give raises to the ones who actually do a good job...you know, like the rest of the planet outside corrupt unions operates. Yeah I know, it would never work.

3
Bill Guest

Most Delta flight attendants make an effort to show you are a valued customer. Most AA flight attendants treat me like a nuisance. I fly first class with my own money. I pay more to fly Delta. They then have higher profits to share. Basic cause and effect lost on AA flight attendants. PS don’t seek a job that qualifies for food stamps if you don’t want to be on food stamps. Your poor choice is YOUR poor choice.

2
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