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How American Airlines And Flight Attendants Hope To Cut Risk From Holiday Travel

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 9, 2021

The 1,600 cancellations in the last weekend of October represented a warning to American Airlines: It had to prepare better for the coming holidays. Working with its flight attendants union, and then with other work groups, the carrier has done that.

In a letter of agreement with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the two parties made an arrangement, unprecedented at American despite previous attempts by union, to offer flight attendants a one-time holiday pay premium – 150% of pay for select dates around Thanksgiving and Christmas, or 300% for avoiding absences between Nov. 15 and Jan. 2.

The agreement also provides positive space on aircraft for flight attendants who commute to their scheduled flights. APFA has about 24,000 members.

“We wanted a dependable operation for our flight attendants and our customers,” said APFA President Julie Hedrick. “The holiday peak period package we negotiated (provides) well-deserved relief for the flight attendants, who have been pushed to the max by long duty days and short rest.”

“We have been trying to get holiday pay,” said Hedrick, who was lead negotiator for the existing contract, signed in 2014, when the dominant issue was merging contracts from American and US Airways. “We want our flight attendants to come to work for the holidays: we feel they need to be incented (because) it’s so difficult to be away from your family.

“Flight attendants are fatigued: they are exhausted – not just at American Airlines but flight attendants across the industry, as well as gate agents,” Hedrick said. “This has been a very difficult year. We have been through a lot in the last 20 months, and our staffing has been strained since late May.”

While demand rebounded more quickly then anyone expected, “crew schedules were built without enough time for weather events,” she said. “ You saw that with the windstorm in Dallas, which started a ripple effect” when the lack of scheduling flexibility meant that once crews were displaced, replacement crews could not get to flights.

 The Halloween weekend problem began Thursday and Friday, Oct. 28 and 29, when high winds shut down runways at the Dallas hub. The problems snowballed throughout the weekend.

 “I was on the phone with the company Saturday morning and we met Tuesday,” Hedrick said. “They recognized we had an issue; they knew we needed to do something, and as flight attendants we want to make sure our passengers are not put in this position. We want to make sure they get to see their loved ones.”

 Similar holiday compensation is being offered to other work groups. Envoy flight attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants, will have a holiday incentive program that includes space positive travel and a perfect attendance bonus.

American said Tuesday that maintenance, fleet service, dispatchers, flight crew instructors, simulator engineers, and agents with perfect attendance Nov. 15 through Jan. 2 will all be eligible for $1,000 bonuses.  Additionally, agents and others who work on peak days will also receive 1.5 times their pay. Some non-union employees will also be eligible for the enhanced pay.

For flight attendants, the special holiday arrangements are provided in a letter of agreement. For now, they are not part of the contract which the two sides are currently negotiating. The 2014 contract became amendable in December 2019.

Talks are going well, with 15 tentative agreements on the 40 contract sections, Hedrick said. The more challenging sections, including flight attendant reserve levels, remain to be negotiated.

In a memo on Nov. 5, David Seymour, American chief operating officer, wrote that, “On the schedule front, we’ve ensured that November and December are built to meet customer demand and that they are fully supportable by our staffing.” He noted that nearly 1,800 flight attendants have returned from leaves in November, 800 more will return in December, and 600 new hire flight attendants will join the carrier by the end of December.

“From pandemic-related changes to the way we must do business (including mask and other travel requirements) to the small minority of customers who cause disturbances, the last 20 months have been incredibly challenging for many personally and professionally,” he wrote. “We know it’s not always easy. That’s why we’ve developed holiday pay programs for peak travel days during the next two months.”

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