An interesting labor dynamic has emerged at American Airlines, with the airline and the labor union representing flight attendants teaming up to identify and fire senior “cartel” flight attendants who sell “their trips” to junior flight attendants in blatant violation of AA schedule trading policy.
American Airlines And Union Agree On Combating “Cartel” Practice Of Selling Flights By Senior Flight Attendants
There is a group of senior flight attendants at American Airlines known as “The Cartel” who have created a nice little side business for themselves. Put simply, work trips are awarded based upon seniority, so the most senior flight attendants can “hold lines” on coveted longhaul service. These longhaul flights are popular because they allow flight attendants to work many hours in a concentrated period, such that their “full time” work scheduled might include weeks off at a time between trips.
The idea is that flight attendants bid for the flight they want and the longer they work at AA, the more likely they will land their desired trips. But “The Cartel” has undercut that premise by using third-party software and other means to swap their flight times with junior flight attendants for a cash consideration, usually $200. For the two parties, this is a win-win: the junior flight attendants can pick up extra work or better manage thier schedules while the senior flight attendants are simply paid not to work, while still enjoying generous benefits including healthcare and standby travel.
But that comes at the expense of those flight attendants who may not be senior enough to join “The Cartel” but are forced to work less-desirable flights while juniors get to work the crème de la crème routes.
Thus, one prevailing question is who owns a line? Do flight attendants own their own schedules and can therefore do what they want with them or is their no ownership interest in routes? (If you’re lost, perhaps an analogy will help. When an elite member receives a complimentary upgrade, is it her prerogative to trade seats with someone in the back if she wants to sit next to her spouse or should the upgrade go to the next elite member on the list if passed over?)
We might think of unions as generally protective of their members and particularly when it come to flight attendants, protective of senior members. But that is not the case with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), the union which represents flight attendants at American Airlines. It has agreed to work with American to identify and punish those who engage in this practice:
The company modified and we agreed to new language in Section 10.V to address cartel issues. The company proposal gave them sole discretion to choose the objective metrics used to determine if a Flight Attendant was using the scheduling systems to circumvent seniority. The agreed-upon language provides that APFA and the Company will mutually agree upon a process to address seniority abuse through an objective metric. Offenders may find themselves restricted from TTS/UBL/ETB.
(translation: those who engage in selling their plum routes to junior flight attendants will be fired)
View From The Wing points out the interesting adversarial dynamic at play with the relationship between American Airlines and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. After the merger with US Airways, American Airlines flight attendants were forced into a new contact without voting on it. Meanwhile, union leaders received a generous pay raise, equivalent to 110 flying hours per month for their union work. At the time, the head of the union was a cousin of the US Airways Treasurer. That’s all just circumstantial innuendo, but it does appear that the the APFA takes much less adversarial relationship with the company than do other flight attendant unions like the AFA-CWA.
American Airlines is cracking down on senior flight attendants who effectively pimp their seniority out to junior members for cash….and doing so with the help of the union representing flight attendants. While I understand and do appreciate the argument that senior flight attendants should be able to do what they want with “their” trips, I believe it creates a system of abuse and comes at the expense fostering a system that rewards longevity in an even-handed way.
image: American Airlines
Agree on the adversarial relationship point. For a while I was closely following APFA and AFA-CWA news that to be true. Julie Hedrick has a much gentler approach at least in demeanor. Sara’s messaging and posturing is much more pointed and direct.
found that to be true*
This really seems to be an American Airlines problem, you don’t really hear much about trips or lines being sold at United or Delta although Delta has no union. It does make me wonder why continues to be an issue for American.
However in response to your comment I think it is one reason why APFA is a much weaker union than the AFA. I’m no fan of Sara Nelson or the AFA but at least AFA membership knows where Sara Nelson stands. AFPA membership has no idea where Julie Hedrick stands because this isn’t the first time where she has aligned herself with American against her own membership. And while I believe selling trips/lines is wrong I don’t think the union (which is supposed to protect its membership) should be advocating for members to be fired if caught doing this. The AFPA in my opinion should be advocating for some type of discipline that at least allows its membership to keep their job. Any AA flight attendant who has the seniority to be apart of the “cartel” if they get fired at their age there are very few prospects of them getting another decent salary job and they have no chance of getting a job paying them what AA is paying them. Therefore the AFPA should not be agreeing with management resulting in members being fired instead they should be the selling of trips is wrong but here are several alternatives to firing employees.
Agree completely on your union points. But WN allows this– at least to some extent and without ‘cartel’ labeling–so truthfully I must say I am a bit confused.
I’ve been a little out of the FA loop compared to before and admittedly I haven’t been following this one closely but at a glance I am not fully understanding the issue. I follow WN closest from an FA perspective–I always wanted to work there due to their ultra high employee sat in the post-Herb era, where things were glowing and lots of $ was being made all around.
Anyway WN FAs can put money on drops/trades and I don’t see anything really wrong with it on the surface. Truthfully I have not fleshed this one out and this is more of a live stream of consciousness & I am hesitant to weigh in but I’ll try to take a stab at it anyway. This may or may not make any sense.
New hire WN FAs often get assigned to OAK–Oakland, California as their base. OAK is not the most desirable base in the WN system, due to the insane cost of living in the bay area. But regardless many new hire FA’s are assigned to OAK anyway and their schedules originate and terminate there. Most do not live in the bay area and do not want to relocate there, so they generally find a crash pad and commute in for assignments, and then commute home at the end of their trips…until they have enough seniority to transfer to their preferred base in another part of the country.
Schedule wise, an FA gets assigned a schedule for the month of May, as an example. Let’s say they “hold” (assigned by way of seniority) four three-day blocks of reserve in OAK, one each week, perhaps Thurs Fri Sat, although it doesn’t matter which days. However, the FA doesn’t want to fly into OAK just to sit reserve, they live in MCO (in this example), and would rather pick up trips out of MCO, know their schedule versus being on reverse and likely earn more money in their paycheck with higher credit hours, all while avoiding MCO-OAK commute eight times for that month.
So they look to clear their board/schedule, putting their reserve blocks onto the trade/drop/whatever it’s called board hoping that someone who wants to work out of OAK will take them from them, then reassigning the shifts to the individual picking up the assignment. Not many like to sit reserve, so, often, to get someone to pick up reserve, or other undesirable pairings, you have to add a $ amount to the request as incentive for the transaction.
As an example, someone may say: I will pay
$100 to anyone who takes my reserve days on May 4, 5, and 6
$100 to anyone who takes my reserve days on May 11, 12, and 13,
$100 to anyone who takes my reserve days on May 16, 17, and 18, and
$100 to anyone who takes my reserve days on May 23, 24, and 25.
$100 just an example, it can be whatever amount the individual is willing to pay to clear their OAK schedule). The FA can raise the $100 price to a higher amount if no takers, until someone finally accepts.
Then, once complete, the FA (ideally) has no schedule in OAK and is now free to pick up any trips out of any other company base, including their home airport of MCO. They can also pick up trips/reserve blocks that also ‘have $’ on them in MCO, so they can recoup some of what they sold to sell their OAK schedule.
This may sound convoluted and weird to some, but I don’t really see any issue with it on the merits. FA scheduling has always been the most flexible of any industry, so this seems to go along with that. The employees get what they need and the flights are staffed.
This example is from the peasant perspective (new hires with low seniority unable to hold the bases/trips they want/need for income and ease of life) versus the seniors (cartel).
I am still unclear if the cartel is doing something wrong, but I haven’t had time to dive into it to figure out what that is, so anyone can feel free to let me know.
Yea, I’m definitely on the side of AA here. There is no universe in which those trips “belong” to the flight attendants, and therefore they have no right to sell them. They belong to American Airlines, who assigns them to flight attendants.
To make a much better analogy than the one you made, it’s like if your complimentary upgrade clears, then you stand on a chair at the gate and offer to sell it to someone for $200. Um, no, not allowed.
Much ado about nothing from the passengers’ perspective. Its deceitful in the sense of cheating non-participating FAs but money (almost?) always speaks louder than ethics.
I wouldn’t want a culture of senior people selling all the good trips at my airline either. Southwest is known for this.
At the same time, the sale is voluntary and the junior staff member is paying $ out of their own pocket to work a more senior trip/schedule. Paying to work does sound crazy but at the same time I think we have bigger issues with people not wanting to work at all, leaves, disability, etc, versus those who actually do want to work, but just want to work a more convenient/attractive schedule and who are willing to pay to do that. I guess I’m just not seeing the issue with juniors who want to shell out their own $ in this case. It’s not forced, it’s voluntary and agreeable to all parties involved, so I guess I am still unclear on the overall merits.
It amazes me that people actually defend such selfishness.
Selfish or not, it’s just reality. Considering a counterpoint/counter-narrative ≠ mean defense.. It just means freedom of thought & diversity of thought to consider all angles, completely, instead of just one side.
“When an elite member receives a complimentary upgrade, is it her prerogative to trade seats with someone in the back if she wants to sit next to her spouse or should the upgrade go to the next elite member on the list if passed over?”
No, the analogy is “when an entire member receives an upgrade, is she entitled to sell the upgraded ticket to a third party?”
And the union exists to represent all the employees, and not just the senior ones. It negotiates pay and perks for seniority. It shouldn’t tolerate senior members converting perks into additional pay at the expense of junior members. If this abuse is widespread, maybe a more equitable solution could be found. You shouldn’t have to buy someone else’s privilege.
To be clear, when you say privilege I am using this definition of seniority:
– The fact or state of being higher in position or status than another department member.
A privilege earned by reason of length of continuous and uninterrupted service or higher rank.
If you mean another type of privilege, then please explain. I do hear you on the “shouldn’t have to buy” point but at the same time they have willing buyers. It’s a win win for the two parties involved and I’m failing to see how the union and/or company are damaged.
It’s not like this is common and everyone is doing it constantly 24/7. It’s a minority who need to rework their schedules and who are used to bartering to do it.
I don’t see what the difference is from when I was 16 at Pizza Hut telling my friend I’ll pay you $20 to work for me tonight. But I’m willing to hear why that is problematic. Am I way off base?
Well, in the ‘Hut example, it would be you asking your friend to pay you to work tonight, not you paying for someone to cover you.
Similar cases: on a night stop, you get a hotel room. You give that hotel room to someone else in exchange for a hundred bucks, and sleep on a friend’s couch.
It’s win-win for you and the person who got a cheap hotel room. It’s a lose for the airline that’s paying for something to ensure employee performance, and the employee is pocketing it.
In this case, the losers are those who would have had those picks. Maybe it’s a small thing, but it’s a loss.
On the company culture side, I’d rather have the employees get rich off of the customer than off of each other. Of course, they ain’t getting rich.
Unions are great. I don’t see how anybody would ever question that
Flight attendants pay other flight attendants to work their trips at AA. When the scheduling system is so mismanaged we are unable to switch our schedules at the last minute through the company. If we call in sick or have an emergency we are threatened with points, discipline and termination if you can not make it to work. We are told we have 2 personal days a year but are never able to even get 1 personal day even with the death of a loved one. Many flight attendants commute from other cities and have to go standby. Some of us have elderly parents, or a spouse that we are also taking care of or have children and grandchildren. We also get sick ourselves and don’t want the point and threats. That is our reality. We are certainly not making people pay US for a trip! We need a union that supports us.
Hi Mary, Are you saying “The Cartel” does not actually exist?
The way it is described in this article it is not true. A flight attendant would never pay another flight attendant to pick up a premium trip. It does not happen.
You’re saying that a junior would not pay cash under the table to swap with a senior on a plum longhaul route?
From what I know, that isn’t common. Now, would it “never” happen? Never say never. But really, I’m still trying how this is such a big issue. Seniors don’t want to work and juniors do and provide more energetic service, so can you please do a follow up post analyzing this or something. Still would like to know if I am way off base.
Correct Matthew Klint
So what was this APFA memo about?
I don’t see anything like this with the pilots….thats because they’re paid enough and fear losing their seniority and license.
For this to happen among FAs indicates inadequately of compensation and the the relative low status of the job.
Both the union & AA need to get ahead of this or it will be the front line story on the evening news with words like “corruption”, “profiteering”, and “POC discrimination due to the lack of seniority” thrown around. AA issuing gib PR responses like “We take corruption seriously” won’t cut it. Should the DoL and DoJ will get involved, they’ll be plenty of egg on everyone’s face.
As a stretch, the FAA could claim AA’s certificate of air worthiness may be compromised due to a corrupt environment. That’s when the executives in Fort Worth will get off their arse.
What’s wrong? It’s a US airline where everything is for sale to the highest bidder without principle. Is AA just angry that others have seen the opportunity and are taking the cash?
There is a lot of misinformation surrounding this, especially in the comments section. Mary is wrong. The Cartel certainly does exist. The WN (Southwest) examples are confusing people because the Cartel that AA is taking issue with is about senior FAs selling desirable trips for their own profit, taking advantage of poorer new-hires, and cheating FAs who are not willing to pay out of those trips. The company is acting on legitimate complaints from its employees. The strength of the union has nothing to do with it. FAs are complaining to the union too because they’re being cheated by the Cartel. What the union is saying is that the company originally was going to take action on its own but now the union will have a say in how it’s done. This doesn’t make the union weak. The union itself also has an interest in protecting its members from the Cartel. There is a BIG difference between having a trip that nobody wants and can’t find anyone to take and offering extra money for someone to take it off their hands than bidding the most premium trips that everyone wants and would pick up for free in a heart beat and the turning around and CHARGING people to get those trips. Every airline’s FAs probably offer extra money to take a nasty trip (think 4 day early sign-in holiday, red eye, position 1) trip that is available to ANYONE but that they they cannot get rid of. See the difference here? THAT’S what the issue is.
Thank you. That is exactly what I thought.
That’s spot-on, James.
James I honestly don’t think you know what you are talking about. You are just getting people divided within the work group. This makes me think you may be with our company run union?
If trips are being sold which I have never seen or heard of or do I know of anybody that would want to pay for a trip. Why not just hop on a flight and go standby?
What is going to happen if this complaining continues to the company and union is all trades will stop and we will only be able to go through the company to change our schedule and all of your schedule flexibility will be taken away. Total control of your schedule!
Just be careful what you wish for.
It’s not an us against them at our airline as far as seniority and cartels. That is ridiculous!
Positive Airline News…..please!!!
So you want to preserve trading by burying you head in the sand in order to ignore The Cartel? I understand you want to preserve trading, but you cannot just pretend something doesn’t exist when you have even the union commenting on it.
And let me add if I was a junior FA (I’m not), I’d certainly entertain the thought of laying $200 to fly JFK-DEL (well, maybe JFK-DOH) instead of being on reserve and waiting for a nasty four leg domestic trip.
Paid trades were banned at my airline over 40 years ago.