United Airlines Closing Foreign Crew Bases

Filed Under: United

Virtually all US airlines are planning significant job cuts this year due to the reduction in demand, and United Airlines has perhaps been most vocal about needing to reduce staffing levels. Unfortunately there’s bad news today for some flight attendants…

United Airlines closing foreign crew bases

United Airlines has flight attendants based in four foreign cities — Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, and Tokyo. These crews don’t operate domestic flights within the US, but rather typically just operate flights to & from their home airports.

Well, it has today been revealed that as of October 1, 2020, United Airlines will be closing crew bases in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. This means the only remaining foreign crew base for the airline will be in London.

Unfortunately this will impact about 840 flight attendants. Some will be eligible to transfer to US bases as of the October flying schedule, assuming they’re eligible to work in the United States.

United’s foreign based flight attendants are a quirky bunch — some are Americans who just like living abroad, while others are “locals” who just got a job with United. I’ve flown with United flight attendants from all four of these bases, and it’s always fun to get different service than you might be used to on a US airline.

I feel bad for all the employees impacted by this — moving your life across the ocean isn’t easy, and that’s for the lucky ones, who are even eligible to work in the US.

United is closing three of four foreign crew bases

Why are these layoffs happening on October 1?

US airlines received around $50 billion in funding through the CARES Act, and one condition of the payroll protection aspect of that was that airlines had to promise not to involuntarily lay off employees prior to October 1.

However, this restriction was specific to US-based employees. Unless I’m missing something, this means that United could have laid off these flight attendants sooner if they wanted to.

Why are they keeping these employees on? This is purely speculation on my part, but these flight attendants are also represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), so my guess is that they didn’t want to ruffle too many union feathers prior to CARES Act funding ending.

This move will impact 840 employees

Bottom line

United will be closing three of four foreign crew bases, impacting 840 employees. Those eligible to work in the US will be allowed to transfer bases, though understandably many of them may not want to move their lives to the other side of the world. Then there are also all the employees not eligible to work in the US.

This is a sad development, and unfortunately these foreign crew bases are often the easiest cuts to start with when airlines are trying to reduce head counts. Similarly, Cathay Pacific has just closed all of their North America crew bases as well.

Did you ever have the chance to fly with one of United’s international crews?

  1. Some two decades ago United Airlines had a Paris flight attendant domicile. Several times I flew a United 727 – configured with First and Economy – between Athens and Paris. The French crews were a delight, and the women managed to wear their standard-issue United uniforms as though they were haute couture!

  2. I’m surprised they are closing the Frankfurt base. United has many flights into Frankfurt and Munich and if a crew member falls ill, in some cases United would have to cancel a flight back to the US if they lacked crew.

    What made Frankfurt a great base, is that a Untied crew member from Frankfurt could take the place of an ill crew member

  3. Couple of years ago the base at Roissy-CDG was closed and the flight attendants were relocated to Frankfurt. For the flight attendants It’s sad news that the Frankfurt base closes.

    Over the time I got to know some flight attendants and we saw each other regularly up in the air. I will miss this familiarity on these UA flights to&from Frankfurt.

  4. Stop pretending that you care about their jobs… You only want to travel in luxury and if your champagne isn’t at the temperature that you think that it’s perfect you’ll write a length review complaining about that

  5. Oh yes we are going through tough times right now in this industry….all the best to the FRA based crews – had many enjoyable flights with them, especially the ones that had been at the old CDG base….

  6. Super vc10… Any non-usa crew would make their uniforms look like haute couture.
    Turco… They try to pass it off as champagne, its california sparkling wine

  7. @Crosscourt

    Flying Economy on United from San Francisco to Paris many years ago, a Parisian flight attendant stopped her beverage cart at my seat and asked what I’d like to drink. “A glass of the Champagne, please.” I answered. Smiling conspiratorially she replied “You mean zee sparkling wine?”

  8. I heard that UA has specified that they will not be opening the LHR domicile to accept any of the displaced F/As from other domiciles.

    If my memory of the timeline is correct, the three overseas bases being closed have 25-year seniority F/As who where hired overseas and cannot work in the USA. “You’re welcome,” says UA.

  9. @Turco

    Get OUT of here. Your comments are of no value and are just mean. Did your dog just run away because he could no longer stand your company?

  10. I’ll really miss the folks based in HKG. I have done that route more often than I can count and I will miss the ones I have come to know being a regular. Very sad.

    I would imagine there is a loophole for a FA working for a USA company traveling back and forth. There are many employees of American companies based part time in HK and the reverse.

  11. The real loss at United was when they closed the non-AFA regional flight attendant bases in Singapore and Bangkok.

    They only flew the intra-Asia flights (e.g., NRT-SIN/BKK) and it was like flying a completely different airline.

  12. The HK crew are hardworking and personable, this is a shame to see them abandoned by their employer.

  13. Such a shame. I often found these crews to be far superior when compared to the ones based in the USA.

  14. I live in Tokyo and until February I was frequently flying United to and from the US. The Japanese flight attendants generally have great service. It will be hard for United to maintain Japanese customers without Japanese speaking FAs.

  15. One thing you failed to mention is that there are senior crews who actually commute from the US to these bases overseas because they have the high seniority that allows them to have great schedules and hold very good lines. It’s absolutely not unheard of for crews to live on one continent yet be based on another.

    A while ago I remember flying with some women from Chicago that were based in NRT. What the senior crews do is create their schedules with back-to-back flying so they get everything done in a short period of time and have the rest of the month off. The back to back trip schedule can be grueling but to those who do it, it’s worth it.

    For example, assume a senior mama from ORD is based at NRT… she’ll do 3 transpacific trips back to back and be done for the month — no need for an apartment in NRT really, just 3 nights in a crashpad or cheap hotel (one rest period between each trip) — boom, she’s got her 73 hours in for the month and now has the next 18 days off.

  16. This blog of full of nonsensical “I’m sad about their jobs”… You just need to see that there’s a banner “supporting equality” and the blog is written by a white only team…

  17. This is a nightmare for many crew – they are so special in the sky. I will sorely missed them and UA won’t be the same without them. Scott Kirby, I hope you will enjoy your fat paycheck while you’re hurting many workers. Shame on you, Scott!

  18. Sad news indeed for all the folks that have lost their jobs. I was a regular on the ORD-HKG route for a number of years and always appreciated the HK based crew. The Chief Purser on many flights was a dude name Rico. Always happy to chat and specifically remember Rico pouring me a beer in the galley and showing me photos of his recently remodeled flat in Disco. Gonna miss that dude. If he stays in the game he’d make a great addition to any team that values good service: CX, SQ, NH, et al.

  19. @Janet: UA will still have Japanese speaking flight attendants on board. They are U.S. citizen, bilingual flight attendants.

    They just won’t be based in NRT.

    The same thing AA and DL do.

    As to the ability of those based in FRA, HKG and NRT to transfer to a U.S. domicile, some can and some can’t. UA will not sponsor visas for them so, if they do not have the right to reside in the U.S. and are not eligible for ESTA, they can’t work from the U.S.

    Some can and some can’t.

  20. The NRT -based flight attendants are gems. This is sad news. They truly set the standard for international service on UA.

  21. @Turco
    Why do you spend your time reading nonsensical blogs written by a white-only team interested only in drinking champagne. Surely you must have better things to do with your time

  22. With the HK protests happening would the Administration perhaps consider allowing United’s HK base crew to move to the US as refugees? Britain is close to announcing a similar program. I’m sure some would be keen to GTFO of HK.

  23. I’m not a huge UA fan, BUT their FRA and HKG based crews constantly delivered great services on my flights with them. I wish those who can’t relocate to the US nothing but the best.

  24. @Phil:

    Not a chance. This administration is not exactly pro-immigrant.

    The only way I see it happening is if Trump thought it would tweak the Chinese so that it is worthwhile.

    As to the U.K., they are only referring to those in the SAR who are already British Overseas Citizens. It is an adjustment of their status, which is dramatically different than offering asylum.

  25. @wpcoe – not sure any Europeans would want to come and work on the UK at the moment to be honest.

    I don’t see UA paying visa fees for any one not already eligible to work in the UK for example. That’s if they even meet the income rules that are coming in soon to make what would be EU nationals have to follow the existing rules for non EU nationals.

    Though it was ironic to see our PM make a plea the other day for some classes of EU workers – fruit and vegetable pickers – to come back here after the years of saying they were taking jobs from ‘hard working’ Brits. Turns out not many Brits want to work that hard!

  26. It is a very stressful time for all of us working in aviation. I have been stood down since March and still don’t know if I will resume my employment. As someone who has been in the industry for 25 years its going to very difficult to find another job at this stage

  27. Feel sorry for those who transferred to FRA when CDG closed a cpl years ago. Nowhere to go now.

  28. I’m surprised you never did an article on when Lufthansa closed Germanwings back in April…

  29. This is almost the end of an era. Once upon a time TWA and Pan Am had bases across the globe. United has been the last US airline to retain that practice, and now it’s pulling back.

    Gary, perhaps you should write an article about the bases that British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, and KLM maintain here in the US and whether or not they will close.

    Also, I remember the days when American first launched its Latin America routes in the early 1990s. It seems like they had bases in many Latin America cities, and they were staffed by citizens of those countries. Seems like most or all of those bases must have closed before the merger with US Airways.

  30. Ooops, my last comment should have been addressed to Ben, not to Gary. Sorry. Feel free to correct that error.

  31. @Charlie: I don’t believe the European airlines have had crew bases in the US. They have had them in the Far East and South America, though, and at least in the case of BA they have shut the majority (GRU, EZE, HKG, SIN). Finnair have a significant number of cabin crew in the Far East but I have not heard anything regarding their future. I’m too lazy to google today.

  32. @ sharon… incorrect… a FRA-based f/a could not take place of an ill crew member; 98% off the FRA-base commutes, so there are no stand-by’s at the airport as in other bases.

    Also, for the last 3 months, f/as based in FRA LHR NRT HKG have been getting paid their contractual 71-hr/month to stay home. A believe me, if UA could close LHR, they would; but I’m sure there are labour laws and such that prevent them from doing so.

  33. I’ve flown UA 869/862 quarterly+ for the past 20 years until this year. I know some of the FA’s personally. They are UA’s finest IMO and this is truly sad news.

  34. Lufthansa only has foreign bases in DEL, BKK and HND. Everbody else is based in Germany.

  35. @Pelican. The labour laws in the UK are nowhere near as strong as Germany. LHR is possibly remaining because it has the F/A recurrent training based there. You can be sure it has nothing to do with labour laws, but it suits the company – for the moment …..

    It is a legacy of PanAm. The senior F/A’s were/are PanAm, quite a number from Scandinavia who commuted. LHR recruited again when they reintroduced PA 1 and PA 2, which were UA 1 and UA 2, RTW service. Sometime in the early 1990’s, specifically to fly the LHR/DEL leg and many were of Indian origin for verbal/written Hindi.

    I don’t know whether the level of service was any better with local vs US crew, all become tainted and ‘bored’ after a while. I had good and bad and that goes for any airline.
    As for uniform, you only look as a good as the uniform. A sack is no more glamorous on Naomi Campbell than it would be on any other girl. However, do Alitalia and Air France crew look the stereotypical image of what the average man would attribute a flight attendant to look like? Yes ! You need to throw political correctness out of the window on that last comment, but it is what it is.

    None the less – with most airlines claiming their schedules will be significantly reduced for years to come, it will be difficult for these flight attendants losing their jobs to find replacement employment in the same role. Many carriers, particularly Gulf carriers will want flight attendants under a certain age, BA has previously made a statement they could pay £5 an hour and still have candidates lining the streets to become a flight attendant – some youngsters do consider the job, glamorous and happy to take whatever salary is on offer.

    My heart goes out to anyone who will lose their job. Unfortunately, this is such a volatile industry and it would seem any negative event taking place in any corner of the world, affects this industry. If I had my time again, I would run a mile. I hope those who will be affected by this recent announcement stay safe, retain some optimism and wish them well for the future, it is a cycle and good times will return.

  36. It is sad that UA closes its bases. MANY FA can not work in the US because they have no green card. Having worked for UA and then be furlowed is cruel.

  37. @Charlie

    UA inst the only US3 left with bases abroad. DL still has MNL and just increased the base size.

  38. The Union agreement at UA requires a 90 day notice for base closures, which partially explains the October 1st date.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *