American Airlines Flight Attendants Just Made a Big Complaint, and Nobody Is Very Happy

A heck of a lot of people usually want to become American Airlines flight attendants.

“It’s a lower acceptance rate than Harvard by a long way,” as former American Airlines CEO Doug Parker put it a few years ago. “We get the best of the best.”

At the time, he was probably right. Before the pandemic, American Airlines had something like 500,000 applications on hand for 2,000 flight attendant openings.

Since then, however, the whole airline industry has been upended, and at both American Airlines and its competitors, some of the luster might have come off the idea of the job.

Case in point: The recent communications of the union that represents American Airlines flight attendants, which blasted American Airlines this week over scheduling issues.

In short, the union says its members are “frustrated,” and left feeling that American Airlines has “zero consideration for the well-being of our flight attendants,” because of “high line averages and the increased number of hours forced onto their schedules.”

Put simply, the union basically says American Airlines is forcing senior flight attendants to take on jam-packed schedules that often don’t work out due to cancelations and delays.

As a result, says the union, which is called the Association of Professional Flight Attendants or APFA, American Airlines in turn puts too many flight attendants on reserve status, so they can be ready on short notice when other flight attendants are inevitably unable to staff their flights.

“Our concerns and logical arguments fall on deaf ears,” the union wrote, adding:

“Blatantly ignoring APFA’s input every month, the allocations department continues to build sequences that cannot withstand weather and air traffic delays.

As a result, these broken sequences require AA to call out an entire new Reserve crew … The sheer number of Reserve Flight Attendants used to complete these fragile sequences is shocking.” 

During 2022 alone, flight attendants have clashed with American Airlines management over everything from  how many beverages to serve in economy class to the policy of not playing flight attendants while boarding and deplaning passengers.

American Airlines and the union both even called out some flight attendants for  creating a secondary market for the best flights.

In short, senior flight attendants would bid on desirable flights they had no intention of working, only to turn around and sell their right to work the flights to more junior flight attendants.

Basically, nobody seems very happy. By the way, I asked American Airlines for comment on all of this, but I haven’t heard anything back. If they have anything to add, I’ll update this article.

Look, I want American Airlines to do well. I want their flight attendants to be paid fairly and enjoy their jobs, and I want the entire U.S. aviation industry to be healthy so that all of us can fly safely, reliably, comfortably, and more or less affordably.

While that seems at times like it might be a tall order, my interest in this story — and probably yours — isn’t so much about the specific complaints of American Airlines flight attendants, as what leaders in any industry can learn from the story.

In this case, I think it has to do with the rather archaic, byzantine flight attendant scheduling system that seems to be at the root of so many problems. 

In the course of reading about all of this this, I came across the 122-page, single-spaced manual or guide to the  Flight Attendant Preferential Bidding System that they use at American Airlines. 

I’m aware that policies like this are the result of negotiations between unions and airlines, and that with something like 25,000 flight attendants and countless flights, but the complexity is striking.

As I write in my free ebook, Flying Business Class: 12 Rules for Leaders From the U.S. Airlines, this industry offers a nonstop parade of business school case studies that can help you overcome challenges in your business.

Today’s lesson? Keep things simple when you can. Maybe you’ll wind up with happier employees.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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