United Flight Attendants Are Getting Tumi Luggage Later This Year

Filed Under: United
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One positive effect of the airlines making our experience miserable doing pretty well financially is that they’ve been able to better take care of their employees. That’s something I can appreciate, especially given that just over a decade ago many airline employees had their pensions taken away, which is pathetic.

In many cases the pilots are back to their “glory days” of making $300,000+ per year (at least for senior captains at the big three). Heck, in April American flight attendants and pilots even got a proactive raise, a move that will cost them $230 million this year, and $350 million in subsequent years. This has brought out frustration in shareholders, who complain that employees are being paid first, and that shareholders are only getting “leftovers” (which is in stark contrast to what you’ll typically hear from any airline employee).

Anyway, while not quite the same level of investment as the above, United has announced that they’ll be giving all of their flight attendants Tumi luggage later this year. This will complement their new uniforms. Flight attendants will have the choice between two types of Tumi bags. Either the Tumi Alpha International 2 Wheeled, or the Tumi Alpha International 4 Wheeled. These bags retail for $595-625, and the Alpha International is also the bag I use.

Now, I suspect United isn’t paying anywhere close to retail for these bags, given that they’re buying them by the thousands. I’m sure some flight attendants will also appreciate the option of now having a four wheeled bag (which personally I’m not a fan of, but others feel differently).

Bottom line

I commend airlines for trying to take care of their employees. While the Tumi luggage is more a small gesture than anything, I do think it will help give employees a sense of pride, at least in their overall appearance.

The issue with all of this, however, is that the airlines continue to make the flying experience more miserable for passengers. Soon we’ll see 29″ of pitch at a legacy airline, we now have basic economy fares that don’t allow any sort of a carry-on, etc. While I don’t want to discount the value of financial rewards for employees, it’s not going to raise morale or improve the customer experience if you’re not giving them a product to be proud of. It might better make them tolerate the conditions that management is creating, but that’s about it.

Shareholders, you’re not getting the leftovers… us customers are. 😉

(Tip of the hat to FlyerTalk)

  1. The pay raise for American staffing is very much an effective means. The Tumi baggage giveaway is not. It only temporarily gives satisfaction to the employees. Seriously, United. Retrain employees in customer hospitality and perhaps pay them decently. Actually treat them well to where they don’t have to follow the codes to the ‘t’ in fear of being fired or the likes.

    I’ve noticed a huge improvement in American service, while of course, their frequent flyer program and hard product suffers a certain degree. It’s just a gesture is what United is doing. Their employees will go on power trips, they’re make the news every week.

  2. So I am a monster 🙂 Good to know. I travelled wirh two wheelers for years and was hapoy with it. But nowadays I do not want to miss my four wheelers, neither the big one nor the carry on, much more comfortable in my opinion, especially in the narrow aisles onboard.

  3. Put employees first, and they will put the customers first… then customers will flock to your business in droves, which makes the shareholders happy.

    Put shareholders first, and they’ll be happy for a while, but your company will suffer long term. Applies to pretty much any customer service situation.

    It’s a nice gesture, like my company giving us a pin and $8 Starbucks cards for “Employee Appreciation Day” but it doesn’t build a meaningful relationship between employee and company, and what do the phone CSRs and gate agents get?

  4. Hi Lucky
    I’ve suggested this before but it would be very interesting if you did a post on what you pack for each trip in your HLO. I know you’ve done some ‘travel gadgets I never leave home without’, but I’m more interested in how much stuff you take (ie clothes) and how you pack it given you’d constantly be needing to take your liquids, electronics out for security scanning. A photo of what your bag looks like when you open it would be interesting – are you a neat packer?
    Do you use a bathroom/toiletries bag if everything needs to be in a clear ziplock anyway?
    Do you still take 2 hand luggage bags like you used to and how do you decide what to keep in each?

    I’d also be very interested in a blog post on some of the challenges you must face living in hotels full time, for example, where and how often do you do laundry? Do you only own enough clothes for hand luggage or do you have a whole wardrobe of clothes at your parents you swap things over between trips? How do you receive mail? (i.e. the physical credit cards you sign up for?) What do you do if you need to see a doctor when travelling? Have you ever lost or had your passport stolen?
    Do you have a preferred city to stay in between trips? (Assume this is LA or wherever your parents are?)

    I would be fascinated to learn how you do this!

  5. @ Ben — All great questions! Let me see what I can do in addressing these in a blog post. Appreciate the idea! 🙂

  6. @ Timtamtrak — “Put employees first, and they will put the customers first… then customers will flock to your business in droves, which makes the shareholders happy.”

    I agree with this on the surface, but the problem is that employees can’t really put customers first, or at least can’t deliver an experience they can be proud of. When airlines simultaneously give employees pay raises and make the experience worse for customers, you’d think those two things would cancel one another out, at least if the pay raise is given with the intention of them being able to deliver a better customer experience.

  7. In the long term, changes like this will be a positive move for shareholders, staff and passengers alike.

  8. @Lucky– Will you buy me a Tumi 2 wheel? I need one for work travel but can’t afford one. Thank you!

  9. Airlines are indeed making the experience for customers better – just the ones who have been and still willing to pay for it. Let’s also keep in mind that what we pay today, though definitely higher than what we would have paid even last year, is still far below the inflation-equivalent 10 or even 20 years ago.

    I’m glad to see airline employees starting to see some of the benefits of consolidation.

  10. @Ben – people who buy 2 wheelers when 4 wheelers exist are knuckle draggers. Start using a 4 wheeler and you’ll never go back. Not only is it easier, but you’re not running over people dragging a suitcase behind you that you can’t see who you might be hitting.

  11. The previous Travelpro Crew cases United used weren’t exactly cheap, though not as expensive as these Tumi cases, and tend to be sold at a much smaller margin relative to build cost than the Tumi bags. This alone probably enabled United to get a good deal on what is basically a reverse payment of advertising. Further, while Tumi’s downhill turn in terms of warranty protection is sad, I don’t think most people would contest that Tumi cases are more reliable than the Travelpro Crew line that United was using. As such, I’m guessing United predicts a lower rate of repair and replacement, saving them money.

    Now, when does DL or AA counter with B&R?

  12. It is possible the United union was not appropriately consulted on this and will copy the American union’s playbook and complain away. What if the Tumi bags cause a rash? Or if the handle is not ergonomically perfect? Hope no one gets a foot run over, because it would obviously be the fault of the airline’s pick – not the luggage operator. They’d be in trouble if they handed out envelopes of cash marked “to buy suitcase of your choosing” because someone is going to get a papercut. You can’t give unionized employees something without the support of the union brass ahead of time, lest you face their public wrath.

  13. What a ridiculous post. The health issues among the AA employees are quite serious and not some sort of industrial action

  14. United will not be giving the suitcases for free. Flight attendants will be able to purchase the suitcases at a discounted price. Dollar amount of the discount has not been announced. This article is not accurate. I’m sure it won’t cost United a penny as flight attendants purchase their uniforms and current Travelpro bags.

  15. As an employee, I’m very excited about the new bags. However, as a new-hire I can honestly say it probably isn’t coming out of your legroom. After graduating from my 6 weeks of unpaid training I owed the company $1,300 in uniform and luggage expenses to be payroll deducted for 2 years. So I will actually still be paying for my travelpro when I receive my tumi.

  16. Hey Lucky,

    I hate to complain because I love your blog. However, ever since you updated it and video advertising has taken over your ad space, you blog immediately jumps to the video instead of letting viewers pause or disregard the ad. I know you blog to make an income, however I find that I visit once a week or less versus daily because of this annying interference of enjoying your contnent.

  17. @ Kevin Sullivan — Did you happen to notice what advertiser it was for? We actually don’t allow any auto-play or anchored ads on the site (because as you’ve noted, it’s annoying), so that’s a violation of our terms. If you see it again, please let us know, and we’ll block them entirely. Sorry for the poor experience!

  18. There’s no way to keep all passengers happy. Basic Economy was created to give a more accesible price to those who needed specially to those who travel light.
    Basic Economy only allows one carry on bag that can fit underneath the seat and will give you a random seat usually at the very back of the plane that often do not recline. But you get what you pay for right? You can’t expect to buy basic economy and end up having first class privileges, it’s not fair for those who actually paid the price. If you don’t want basic economy you are more than welcome to buy regular economy, economy plus or first class.

  19. It is a sh*t bag. Basically, Delta’s bags that they rejected and broke contract w/Tumi. UA flight attendants get DL’s leftover rejects.

    This isn’t a true crew bag and they are already breaking down after their release in December.

    Thanks Management! Thanjs for treating flight attendantsike crap once again.

  20. Hello Ben,

    I travel a lot and I have one of those TUMI Alpha international two wheel carry on suit cases 9x14x22.

    Today, waiting for my next flight in SFO, I saw a UA crew member with an identical case like mine but wider, about 2” more. I asked her and she said UA gave it to her and asked which model she picked, she told me the exact name as mine. So, it appears those TUMI/United carry on suit cases are wider. I want one. They should make them available to the public to buy. Can you check on this? You have all the insight. Thanks!


  21. Hi Lucky:

    If you are looking for story ideas, ask a pre-merger Delta flight attendant what a “social security offset” is. With no union to protect them, Delta instituted an insidious process where original DL flight attendants lose one dollar of their pension for every dollar they receive from Social Security (up to a predetermined point). This does not affect prior Northwest employees as their contracts protected their pensions. Not only did Delta turn inflight staff pensions over to the PBGC (Northwest flight attendants kept theirs intact) but now they are left after a lifetime of service with virtually no pension. I know of no other American corporation that has done this to their employees.

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