California’s Tricky Airline Crew Rest Dispute

California’s Tricky Airline Crew Rest Dispute

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There’s a dispute that’s escalating at the moment, which could impact airline pilots and flight attendants based in California. While this lawsuit dates back roughly five years, campaigning on both sides is getting stronger, with the prospect of this being enforced.

Who should regulate California-based airline crews?

In 2016, California-based Virgin America flight attendants sued the airline, arguing that California’s employment laws were being broken. Specifically, this revolved around the requirement that workers be free from all job duties for 10 minutes every four hours, and get a 30 minute meal break once every five hours, including during flights.

Even though Virgin America no longer exists (the airline was acquired by Alaska Airlines), this lawsuit has worked its way through the legal system since then. In 2021, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of airline employees.

The airline industry is heavily opposed to this law, and this case may even make its way all the way up to the Supreme Court.

No one denies what the laws are in California, but what this boils down to is what organization should regulate airline crews. Generally speaking, rules around crew rest are set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The airline industry argues that ever since deregulation, the FAA’s authority pre-empts states’ efforts to oversee airlines.

California-based airline crews may be entitled to more rest

The two sides to this dispute

I think the stance of flight attendants is pretty obvious. Other people working in California (including ground-based airline employees) receive certain minimum breaks, so I can appreciate how flight attendants and pilots feel that they should as well. They make a sacrifice by being away from home, so why should they also sacrifice breaks?

But the industry’s stance also makes quite a bit of sense:

  • It sets quite a precedent if individual states all set their own rules for airline crew breaks, rather than them being federally mandated, since that would complicate operations significantly
  • It’s estimated that these changes could cost the industry between $3.5-8.5 billion per year, and would cause airlines to raise airfare
  • In reality this would probably be bad for California-based employees, as airlines would likely reduce their bases in California, and crews based there would likely get different kinds of trips

Let’s think of the implications of this. For example, say California-based pilots work a nonstop Los Angeles to New York trip, with a one day layover in New York. This trip is currently possible with two pilots, but since the flight is a bit more than five hours, they’d need to have a third pilot so that each pilot can have a 10 minute break, plus a 30 minute meal break.

This would significantly increase operating costs if done this way, not just because of the extra pay, but because on many flights they’d have to block off extra seats for crew rest.

The reality is that this would probably just limit opportunities for California-based crews. Airlines would change how they roster these employees (keeping them on flights under four hours, or flights long enough where a crew rest is required anyway), and I can’t imagine this would incentivize airlines to hire California-based flight crews.

Three pilots would be needed for an LAX to JFK flight

Bottom line

A court has ruled that California-based pilots and flight attendants should be entitled to more breaks, including a 10 minute break every four hours, and a 30 minute meal break every five hours. While that seems reasonable on the surface, this would pose major challenges for airlines.

Two pilots would no longer be able to operate flights of over four hours without a relief pilot, and this would be similarly challenging for flight attendant staffing. The airline industry is now trying to escalate this, in hopes of the current ruling being overturned.

Historically it has simply been the FAA that has regulated airline crew rest requirements, so making this a state issue complicates matters significantly.

What do you make of this potential new rule for California-based pilots and flight attendants?

Conversations (38)
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  1. Laxstew Guest

    Flight attendant here. What a ridiculous proposition. The majority of a 4+ hour flight is spent sitting around. BS state overreach - and I’m a liberal Dem.

  2. Californication Guest

    Terrorists would love us Americans to incorporate a law that requires one pilot to leave the flightdeck for 10 minutes or 30 minutes. Divide and conquer. Did we forget about 9-11. Bathroom breaks are guarded and brief. If you don’t work in the industry maybe stay on the sidelines in the discussion.

    1. Jacl Hines Guest

      Pilots often sleep in the cockpit, especially during a long flight. Barring bad weather, once the plane is at altitude and on course, the pilot has nothing to od except "watch over things." 1 pilot can do that while the other is resting or grabbing a sandwich. Pay structure for flight attendants takes into account the boarding process. They know it, too...

  3. Maggie Guest

    If companies would take care of their work force like they do their CEO’s it might help .

  4. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Guest

    Is there any implication for the (usually) unpaid time crews work whilst boarding aircraft - ie is that considered “working time” under Californian labor laws, as it’s a requirement for them to be there, even if officially it’s unpaid? If so, it would bring the actual flight time before a break was required down below 4 hours; if not it kind of makes a mockery of the law anyway…

  5. Mary S Guest

    This could really suck for people going to CA from the east coast.
    Option 1 - Much more expensive non-stop tickets for the extra crew.
    Option B - Forced stop somewhere to stay under 4 hours.

  6. Lieflat19 New Member

    Leave it to California to screw everything up. Now when we can't get an upgrade because they block off 1 or 2 biz class seats for crew rest and our ticket prices are higher due to this and extra staff or less choice of flights, you know who to think. These clowns who keep voting for this crap never ceases to amaze me. Where all the Biden/Harris fans at today? I don't see any bumper...

    Leave it to California to screw everything up. Now when we can't get an upgrade because they block off 1 or 2 biz class seats for crew rest and our ticket prices are higher due to this and extra staff or less choice of flights, you know who to think. These clowns who keep voting for this crap never ceases to amaze me. Where all the Biden/Harris fans at today? I don't see any bumper stickers from them? They vote for this crap, then it hits the fan and then they are nowhere to be found!

    1. Eric Guest

      This hasn’t gone into effect yet, so it hasn’t increased prices. Are you saying employees should skip meal and rest breaks for your convenience?

    2. Kmchiny Guest

      I don’t recall seeing Biden and Harris as parties to the CA lawsuit, so what exactly are you talking about?

  7. dander Guest

    Pretty simple once a plane crosses a state line, it is considered interstate commerce. Interstate commerce is the business of the federal government not state governments. Its states in the constitution that the federal government regulates interstate commerce. In this case federal law supersedes state law.

    1. Mh Diamond

      But there are still intra-state flights e.g. San Diego - San Fran/LA

    2. Levi Guest

      This I don’t think you be much of an impact because no flight in CA is over four hours.

  8. George Romey Guest

    My understanding is that airline crew have always been exempt from wage and hour laws and instead under FAA. It's how airlines get away with not paying flight attendants for boarding and deplaning activities even they are on "duty". I'm not saying this "right" but it's been this way for decades.

    Flight attendants to get schedule rest breaks on flights over 8 hours. This is nothing new. It's what one agrees to when they take...

    My understanding is that airline crew have always been exempt from wage and hour laws and instead under FAA. It's how airlines get away with not paying flight attendants for boarding and deplaning activities even they are on "duty". I'm not saying this "right" but it's been this way for decades.

    Flight attendants to get schedule rest breaks on flights over 8 hours. This is nothing new. It's what one agrees to when they take the jobs. Airlines don't try to hide the expectations and requirements of the job.

  9. Happy Flyer Member

    The flight attendants union is what this is all about. They are trying to insert a state law in place of superseding federal law. The airline industry is federally regulated, not state regulated. The union, once again, is trying to not have to work.

  10. Nick Pretnar Guest

    The Supreme Court’s historically broad interpretation of the commerce clause as permitting federal law to trump state law during interstate commercial travel would likely make any ruling in favor of airline employees on this matter moot, except for flights entirely within California.

  11. MackMan Guest

    Commercial flights require a 2 pilot crew. Who does the other poster think is going to fly the plane while the pilot is on break? And where is the pilots supposed to go to take a break with a full flight?

    Airlines aren’t going to give up an extra few billion dollars to give a lunch break when they can just hire pilots and flight attendants from other states or countries that can work here. Once again, California is only screwing the the employee.

  12. Liberatarian G Guest

    Who are they kidding? US FA are on break for the majority of the flight, hanging out in the galley on their phone or chatting. That's a break. Go find another job if you don't like what you are doing. Just another union trying to bilk companies, and customers, out of more money while they do less and less actual work. This will end up going nowhere, but at least the lawyers will get paid.

    1. DEE Guest

      I totally agree with your comments. Unions will fix it all including Amazon and Starbucks..NOT

    2. Edie B Guest

      Yeah, right, let's do away with all breaks during working hours. Better yet, no regulation on working hours for anyone in any industry. I sure hope that you never need that flight attendant to save you in an emergency... karma

  13. NH Guest

    Now, apply this law to healthcare workers who work 12 hour shifts in high stress jobs. The hospital I work for still refuses to staff adequately so we can get our 3x 10 minute breaks and our 30 minute lunches. Most days we work 12 hour days with no breaks because we can’t leave our patients. Meanwhile, the company continues to make record breaking profits. Would you still worry about the hospital paying too much just so we can get breaks?

  14. Ole Guest

    I don’t think that is what California is trying to do. The CA based flight attendants are trying to expand CA’s labor laws to suit their needs

  15. DFW Knight Guest

    Unions encourage laziness and racism, at the expense of the company, taxpayer, and customer.

    I stand with Alaksa on this. California based crews provide the same (if not worse) level of service.

    The USA needs some good old fashioned union breakers to end this communism.

    I say this as a black business owner (look me up)!

    1. DFW Knight Guest

      I’ve never experienced as much hate and racism as I have in San Francisco, even growing up in Texas.

      As a black man, they look at me and think I’m a thug or drug addict. No minority communities exist in SF anymore. For a so called progressive city, they sure are closed off and quick to form conclusions. It’s all just virtue signaling.

      Corruption and Gavin Newsom have destroyed the place. And he bought his way back in!

    2. DFW Knight Guest

      Nobody except Gavin Newsom and his millionaire buddies can live there. Both due to his racial purity laws, and the insane cost of living.

      He bought his way out of recall too. Disgusting. Basically the Trump of the West

    3. Ole Guest

      Nope all states should be like Texas - passing laws to circumvent the constitution, control female bodies to get votes from religious extremists under the guise of saving “life”, allowing anyone to carry a gun cuz everybody is out to get ya.

    4. hartd8 New Member

      You are right on in your comments.. Thank You

    5. James Guest

      I did as you suggested and looked you up. I googled DFW Knight and encourage everyone to do the same…

    6. Sam Guest

      wow... just wow. im scared to click any links.

  16. GBOAC Diamond

    Color me confused. The state of CA (where I reside) is trying to regulate the work conditions of employees when they are working out of state???? I'm surprised the case got as far as it did -- perhaps the state can regulate FA/pilots flying exclusively within the state but they would be no way to hit the 5 hour limit.

    1. DFW Knight Guest

      California is a Golem. Needs to be kicked out of the Union.

    2. GBOAC Diamond

      I'd be glad if CA was kicked out of the increasingly unUnited states. Since CA is on of the states that gives more in taxes to the Feds than receives in benefits we do much better with you "takers" in much of the rest of the US.

    3. TM Member

      The labor laws in CA are hardly unique. Many states have laws on the books regarding required breaks for hourly and/or non-exempt workers. Unfortunately, entitled crews/unions thought they could out-smart the Feds and of course their lawyers are happy to keep escalating as their wallets get fatter.

  17. adam Guest

    I am not sure that your comment is accurate:
    "Let’s think of the implications of this. For example, say California-based pilots work a nonstop Los Angeles to New York trip, with a one day layover in New York. This trip is currently possible with two pilots, but since the flight is a bit more than five hours, they’d need to have a third pilot so that each pilot can have a 10 minute break,...

    I am not sure that your comment is accurate:
    "Let’s think of the implications of this. For example, say California-based pilots work a nonstop Los Angeles to New York trip, with a one day layover in New York. This trip is currently possible with two pilots, but since the flight is a bit more than five hours, they’d need to have a third pilot so that each pilot can have a 10 minute break, plus a 30 minute meal break."

    I think you could accomplish this by staggering the breaks. Have Pilot A go on break at 3:30 minutes into flight, similar to a bathroom break. Have Pilot 2 go on break at 3:40 into flight etc. Same with meals. Although I do not doubt there may be other ramifications, I do not think it is a good example.

    1. Mike Guest

      If a plane is a multi-pilot plane, I believe two (or however many, but these days its two) pilots are required by the FAA to be in the cockpit to fly the plane. Other than very brief bathroom breaks on flights where pilots don't have a backup crew, the cockpit needs two pilots in it. If on a 5 hour flight you have 1 ten minute break and 1 30 minute meal break for each...

      If a plane is a multi-pilot plane, I believe two (or however many, but these days its two) pilots are required by the FAA to be in the cockpit to fly the plane. Other than very brief bathroom breaks on flights where pilots don't have a backup crew, the cockpit needs two pilots in it. If on a 5 hour flight you have 1 ten minute break and 1 30 minute meal break for each pilot, that's 1:20 that only one pilot is in the cockpit, as opposed to the typically couple minutes at most. It definitely changes how flights are staffed.

  18. BobC Guest

    California legal/ bureaucratic meddling never ceases to amaze. From practical standpoint, the lawsuit is patently absurd - given flight crews spend meaningful amount of time during flights not doing much actively. But given the law is on the books, industry of lawyers scouring landscape to sue companies (for purely financial gain). How are those Prop 65 warning labels protecting anybody?

    1. Jim Baround Guest

      How is this California meddling? Because they have a law on the books requiring employers to give a 30 minute meal break on an 8hour shift? The law has long existed and had nothing specifically to do with aviation.

    2. DFW Knight Guest

      California needs to be shut down by the federal government and converted back to unincorporated US territory.

    3. Kmchiny Guest

      Ah yes I see that happening… never

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.

James Guest

I did as you suggested and looked you up. I googled DFW Knight and encourage everyone to do the same…

5
Jim Baround Guest

How is this California meddling? Because they have a law on the books requiring employers to give a 30 minute meal break on an 8hour shift? The law has long existed and had nothing specifically to do with aviation.

4
dander Guest

Pretty simple once a plane crosses a state line, it is considered interstate commerce. Interstate commerce is the business of the federal government not state governments. Its states in the constitution that the federal government regulates interstate commerce. In this case federal law supersedes state law.

3
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