Flight attendants from United Airlines are resisting management efforts to reduce staffing on international flights.
Earlier this week, I wrote about a memo to FAs from VP John Slater. Citing competitive pressures, he informed FAs that on certain international flights, the dedicated galley position would be removed in business class. To compensate, United will begin pre-plating meals in Polaris business class. The move would not result in the elimination of any flight attendant positions. In fact, United plans to hire 2,000 more FAs in 2019.
But the Association of Flight Attendants, the labor union representing United’s FAs, quickly pushed back.
Our management team has now made the unfortunate choice to reach for the lowest common denominator. Instead of setting a new bar for excellence, winning over more customers and actually BEATING our competition — they are content with just trying to BE our competition. I don’t want to be the same as Delta or American. I want better!!!
And I must admit, I agree with this sentiment. Want to know one reason why people generally find “Asian airlines” better? It is because there are more FAs onboard, allowing better and more personalized service.
AFA President Sara Nelson noted:
Reduced staffing means fewer flight attendants to observe odd behavior, identify intoxicated passengers, resolve issues at boarding and de-escalate conflict between passengers. It means fewer flight attendants to respond to medical emergencies, back each other up with aggressive passengers and follow through on any issues of sexual assault. It means not having the time provide the customer service so many enjoy giving.
Thank goodness for the last sentence. A FA union rep will never concede the importance of providing good service onboard, but that is what this issue is about. As far as I am concerned, it has little to do with safety.
Warning: Poor Service Ahead?
Unfortunately for customers, FAs are not happy. Some are making veiled threats of poor service if the cuts is implemented:
When you reduce staff, of course there is a reduction in service. Polaris is not going to be anything but the basics — a far cry from the rollout two years ago.
This FA is right about the Polaris cutbacks. Passengers also won’t like an even slower meal service on shorter transatlantic flights. But I hope FAs won’t use this cutback as an excuse to stop smiling.
United’s Right to Reduce Staffing
Unfortunately for the FAs, United has a right to reduce staffing levels. The latest (2016) FA contract contract states only that “a reasonable effort will be made by the company to monitor and staff consistent with the ESG.”
ESG is “established staffing guidelines”, a non-binding guideline taking into account FAA minimums and industry trends for passenger to crew ratio.
This was a key point in the labor negotiations: United wanted the flexibility to reduce staffing. It recieved it and FAs have no legal leg to stand on in resisting this. But they certainly have a practical leg, for there is no doubt this will result in reduced service onboard. Hopefully FAs will continue to make that point.
Stay tuned. One FA lamented that “it all feels very hollow,” when thinking about United’s core4 program. If providing excellent customer service is a key goal to win back customers, how does eliminating positions onboard international flights help meet that goal? Fair question indeed.
> Read More: More United Polaris “Enhancements” On The Way
> Read More: United’s Surprising New Emphasis in Customer Service Training
image: United Airlines