A senior American Airlines flight attendant had plenty to say about the state of the airline, labor relations, management, and the near future of the airline.
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To be abundantly clear, the conversation I heard was off-the-record involving a senior American Airlines flight attendant and is, by its very nature, hearsay. The FA’s statements are their own, are unverifiable, and are simply their opinion. That said, when people talk candidly about their experiences, I find it important to listen even if their feelings or observations aren’t based on objective facts.
This particular FA has been with “American” for more than two decades, but the first half of their tenure was with US Airways. They were used to the management in place at the carrier now for much longer than legacy American Airlines employees.
This flight attendant, along with many peers that allegedly concurred, has serious questions about the American Airlines management team and their ability to deal with the current influx of challenges.
“No one knows where anyone is at.”
The employee described situations where management doesn’t know where staff members are, but in this situation, specifically, flight crew members. The struggle to update flight times, delays, and cancellations is something that plagued American Airlines before the pandemic but is now amplified. It’s for this reason that my own travel agency gets a head start on replacing canceled flights because our technology knows before the American Airlines app updates their own customers or even gate staff.
“I don’t know how much longer it can go on.”
The flight attendant was openly searching for how the airline can continue in this state.
“New boss, same as the old boss.”
The current management with Isom at the helm appears to have the same challenges as Parker though in a magnified environment given the outside pressures on airline performance. The flight attendant expressed little to no confidence in the competency of airline management to run an airline, even without the qualifiers of “efficient”, “great”, or “serviceable.”
The flight attendant expressed outrage about the pilot shortage issue.
“They’ve known about this problem for twenty years [and did nothing.]”
For this, it’s not just American Airlines. The entire industry saw this slow-moving freight train for decades and didn’t do anything to materially rectify it.
Some would point to airlines that started their own flight schools to bring pilots on board with their own systems in place, help with tuition, and get more pilots flying. However, those same detractors would have to look at the size of graduating classes that didn’t even come close to offering an effective replacement for retiring flight crews, let alone the expansion and growth plans airlines clearly laid out for investors. JetBlue was a pioneer in this model but prior to the pandemic had graduated less than 100 new First Officers. That’s seeing the problem and taking action on it but the problem was so big and the results so small, that it left JetBlue desperately trying to buy Spirit as they are now for access to more pilots.
Airline lobbies had been busy for years prior to the pandemic, asking for restrictions against foreign airlines that are subsidized by their governments creating an unfair competitive space (but they ignore their own subsidies, naturally.) But not addressing the mandatory retirement age, asking for waivers or changes to the required flight hours, or even just paying those brand new First Officers a living wage, especially in light of their enormous student loan debt. Some First Officers were making as little as $25,000/year according to this Skift article from 2013.
“For a first-year co-pilot at Republic Airlines, for example, that translates into gross weekly pay of a mere $495 per week.
For a pilot with 10 years’ experience at SkyWest, the weekly gross paycheck might be around $1,312.”
“Although they may only be on the clock 21.5 hours per week or 85 hours per month,” pilots typically are away from base, and from their families, about 240 to 300 hours per month (or about 60 to 75 hours a week),” according to the Airline Pilots Association.
For the lowest paid co-pilot on Mesa Airlines earning about $22 per hour, this imbalance works out to $6.80 an hour for a 60-hour work week.” – Skift
There was a push, predominately by fast food workers, for a $15 minimum wage that is still not a nationwide standard (though in practical market terms, good luck hiring front-line workers right now for less than that.) But let it process for a moment that a pilot, straddled with $70,000-180,000 in student loan debt was making less than the proverbial burger-flipper to fly you and your family to your destination. That’s why there is a pilot shortage today, and even when American’s PSA did something about it in 2019 by more than doubling the wage, it would still mean that the right seat of the aircraft was flown by someone making a clearly unsustainably low wage.
“It’s not just a pilot issue. So many aren’t coming back. [New flight attendants] too.”
You think you’re frustrated with the current state of flying? Crew members are quitting. The way this flight attendant phrased it seemed to suggest that we haven’t yet seen the wave of departures that are coming, but had no doubt that they are. There’s no question, it’s a tough time to fly for passengers and for flight crews and the employee’s assessment is that the Great Resignation may soon extend to the airline industry.
This flight attendant, who considers themself very loyal to the carrier, was dismayed at the state of operations at American Airlines. Their comments with regard to Management simply not knowing what is going at the airline matches the customer experience in many cases. While management would dispute this claim, the communications of delays and cancellations is a visible representation of how true this seems to be. It’s clear that the FA sees and understands the attention around the pilot shortage issue but feels that there’s a growing resentment from flight attendants and other staff members that is not being given the billing it might otherwise command. Whether or not the employee is right about employees choosing to move away from the business in the coming months is yet to be seen.
What do you think? Do these flight attendant’s comments resonate with you?
the bottom feeders of society are getting too much, can you believe some of these burger flippers are making $15/hour, this is insance and obviously we need a correction. we need to reduce the minimum wage and mandate more work hours from these people in order to get things back in line
Are you currently employed? Do you actually realize the cost of things? This isn’t 1945 anymore.
Even with $15 an hour you still can’t afford a house or an apartment let alone a car and groceries. So basically people need to work all the time to afford to live?
This comment seems very out of touch and very boomer like.
Burger flippers- I guess you’re in desperate need of attention so here u go- those Burger Flippers were once Pilots-
mark, what is it that you do exactly? Besides not ever eat burgers, that is.
Wake up. You’re obviously asleep OR trapped in a time warp. Please do yourself a favour and look at this. You think $15 is too much? Shame on you. https://livingwage.mit.edu/states/13/locations
Please think twice before you choose to wander out of your cave onto an aircraft.
Mark, leave the grown ups in the room talk about grown up things (like how pilots should make $50/hour), take a juice box and go play outside.
You couldn’t be more wrong, try living on even $10 an hour, 40 hours a week and see how well you survive…you’re clueless.
That has nothing to do with pilots being underpaid. If this is the greatest country, everyone should be able to afford housing, food, medical care, and receive dignity.
Matk go back down in your mom’s basement there’s a PB&J on the table for you and the crust cut off just like you like.
The adults are talking.
The logic that certain work isn’t “worth” paying a “living wage”, is quite interesting. Think about what it takes for someone to think: That someone should work for less than it takes to survive. The rational for this “minimum wage” model is that the employer is paying for an “intern”, such as a student, to get “experience” to pad his resume. Like Carly Fiorina’s much vaunted summer working as a secretary.
This only works when the serfs don’t have other options. I soon realized when I was young that I didn’t have to work menial jobs when I was between work since unemployment was far more generous. Other workers realize the same when it comes to welfare. Unless you’re willing to throw children on the street and let families starve to death as a form of “public execution”, you WILL pay for that 15 bucks an hour one way or another.
Another way you pay it is via indentured servitude or, for the founders of the country, slavery. Such workers did the work and then their descendants became embittered citizens griping for generations about their ancestors’ oppression. It’s funny to hear free market types criticize Marxism when they don’t see a ponzi system right in front of them.
Another way of looking at it: In my job, my work provides some intellectual and personal satisfaction. I feel privileged to get paid to do something I can enjoy doing. But a menial worker feels as if he has traded a day of his life in exchange for a paycheck and if it’s less than surviving on, he’s basically sold his life for nothing.
When someone looks down upon someone like that, I find it amazing that they don’t understand why the Romanov family suffered their harsh end and the French Revolution happened.
The USSR ended due to chernobyl. They were lucky, they got first pick.
Yawn……this is pretty much every flight….I like seat 1C or 1D. I can also tell you all of the extra marital trysts in the Phoenix base and the bizarre sexual fetishes of a male flight attendant and his layover boyfriend in Mexico. They must know that we can hear…..right?
Quoting an article about airline pay from 2013? Maybe if you found one from 2001 it’d bolster your argument even more.
@RetiredATLATC – The reason I used the 2013 article (and clearly labeled it so anyone can understand that it’s not recent) is that it lays bare the total calculation that should factor into pilot pay. When I then include the 2019 post in the next paragraph, it reflects just how bad pilot pay was during prior peak travel when there was an opportunity to do something about it but half a decade later. I agree, we could go back to 2001 and bolster just how long this has been a clear problem, but I’ll substitute this 2009 article that discusses how abysmal regional pilot pay is:
“NTSB investigators calculated Shaw was paid just over $16,000. Colgan officials testified that captains such as Renslow earn about $55,000 a year. The company later said Shaw’s salary was $23,900 and that captains earn about $67,000.”
Why do you have to hit below the belt someone to achieve your goal.
Jetblue has way more pilot applicants than it can hire. I know many good outstanding people with perfect flying records who did not get hired. Spirit is filled with lots of pilots jetblue said TBNT to. Given that….why would you say pilots are the reason JetBlue wants Spirit. Spirit is understaffed worse than Jetblue.
@SMR – You’d need to support the claim that “Jetblue has way more pilot applicants than it can hire.” Did not get hired… when? Right now? I would need, as would JetBlue shareholders a source or evidence to support. As to my support, this is a widely held fact confirmed by JetBlue’s own leadership. Here are some articles that might help.
• JetBlue canceled a significant number of summer flights based on their lack of pilots. “The airline is also dealing with a departure of pilots given the industry pilot shortage as well as pilot training bottlenecks.The airline’s pilots union is fed up.”
• President of JetBlue has said it explicitly, “The cuts, as Geraghty put it, take into account: “elevated pilot attrition, pilot training delays stemming from disruptions to planned training schedules due to Omicron, business partner staffing shortages and [air traffic control] staffing shortages.”
Kyle, you definitely have the gift of gab.
Reduce minimum wage? The national minimum wage is $7.75 and no one can afford anything on that. Even at $15 an hour, you will be still not making enough in most parts of the US to afford the most basic needs (housing, food, car/transit etc)). The minimum wage must be raised for the entire country. It doesn’t matter if you are flipping burgers, working as an EMT, or flying as a first year pilot, the minimum wage must reflect the costs to live (even in 2019). Everyone wants to be cheap and not pay more, but all of the US is paying for horrible pay across the majority of industries. If they are working 40 hours a week, at a job where they want to move up, you are saying screw you, you don’t deserve it. So then they have to rely on government assistance. You argument is beyond flawed, and shows how many people can’t grasp simple economics.
I’ve overheard FA’s griping in the galley for two decades. If the airlines had to run their businesses based on FA’s gripes they would be on board only to open and close doors, work 30 hours a month, and make $200K a year. And they will blame everything on “overpaid pilots”, “greedy management” and “entitled customers.”
Other than that the pilot shortage is nothing more than a product of accelerated retirements at the start of Covid and will take 2-3 years to catch up. It’s not some complex thing. Yes, they raped the American taxpayer so as to avoid this, but I think analyzing it any further is a moot point. Bottom line is, Herb Kelleher said it best when negotiating a new contract with his pilots some years ago, “Guys, look, let’s start on the premise that you would do this for free if needed to, you love it.” While it was meant as typically Herb humor, it was still poignant in many ways.
Stuart on a roll. Hate to say it, but he’s 100% correct again. If this keeps up, this site is going to become quite boring in the comment section.
You wrote a whole post about some gripes you heard from flight attendants on a recent flight? Management at AA isn’t perfect, but that’s literally all flight attendants ever do. Complain about management, warranted or not. What happened- did you run out of ice cream stores in Fort Myers to talk about?
Jason, you sound like such a fine chap. Let’s all guess, you work for AA management ?
Nope. I don’t work in the industry
Many flight attendants enjoy their jobs even though they take verbal abuse on a daily basis from cranky passengers who become frustrated because they had to pay for an oversized bag or the line at security was too long. Yes, they are sometimes unaware of how galley voices travel, however, this is not exclusive to a flight attendant’s workplace I’m guessing you don’t whisper in your workplace either.
Im a flight attendant who recently quit AA(PSA REGIONAL)…it is bad…will only get worse. Everyone is leaving bc the pandemic burned us out…we only received a $50 voucher to get vaccinated and if you could afford it, unpaid leave for 1-3 months at a time. Customers treated us like crap. The company treated us like crap..mask mandate ended but I still felt anxious going to work. I can’t wait until someone talks about the ptsd flight attendant have due to the pandemic. It literally feels like I was abused for 2 years..mentally emotionally physically… and suddenly everyone wants to sweep it under the rug. Like nothing happened. I cried going to work. No…I was done.
The first week of this month I left American Airlines mainline and I have to say I agree with what you say here. I too often feel like I suffer from PTSD. The people who run American Airlines are disconnected and disingenuous when it comes to what they want, and to the reality that they know nothing about how to operate an airline as large as American Airlines. It may be too large for Robert Isom and his team to manage and it may be time that the government step in and break it up into two smaller airlines. Otherwise I do believe full heartedly that American Airlines will become bankrupt and no more sooner than later. I’m glad you found the courage to leave and I hope that your life gets better as mine has, and that PTSD feeling falls to the wayside.
@Danielle and Daniel
Excuse me but, really, who has not been traumatized to a certain level over the past 2+ years? Are you so special? We have ALL been struggling with work, family, illnesses, deaths, culture wars, anger, financial uncertainty etc. EVERYONE has PTSD to a level. Get over yourselves. This is exactly why everyone laughs at Flight attendants, you all think your job is SOOOO hard and SOOO special. It’s not. You are just like the rest of us and muddling through this disaster of a few years.
I think it’s easy for folks to blame management when they are not the ones who are on the hook for delivering financial results. For example, if the airlines just kept employees idle during the pandemic when NOONE was flying, they would be lambasted by shareholders to doing nothing. Of course, now the “bullwhip effect” is here and companies (and obviously the FAA) can’t respond quick enough to the spike in demand which is causing these issues.
At the same time, I’ve witnessed some unacceptable behavior of customers towards airline employees recently. A lady was screaming her head off to a check-in agent at Delta EWR about how they had no right to cancel HER flight to ATL. BTW – this was due to an ATC hold/delay which went all day. It’s not the agents fault that the flight was cancelled.
Rest assured, when the economy tanks in the next 6-12 months, things will rebalance, demand will fall, prices will stabilize, and airlines will be begging folks to come back again. It’s the economic cycle.
The first week of this month I left American Airlines as a flight attendant because of their lack of humanity responsibility and accountability for people in management and other flight attendants alike.
This airline operates at the seat of his pants and is ran by people who know nothing about an airline but seem to know everything about how to make money on paper. (that has yet to work.) Robert Isom and the executive team will be unable to salvage American Airlines as it is today. The culture at American Airlines from the top down especially with my experience at Dfw and the flight service managers there is very toxic very authoritarian, they lack any sort of empathy and as mentioned accountability. There are too many there who are simply there for a paycheck or have been abused to believe that this is all they’re good for.
American Airlines flight attendances and their pilots are some of the most stressed overworked people in the industry. All one needs to do a simply look at the massive increase in FML applications because that is the only way that American Airlines allows people to take leave for the most part, As well as fill-in-control of their lives. American Airlines may have been a great company at one time but since it’s hostile takeover by US air Doug Parker and Robert Isom and those who report directly to him have done nothing to improve the situation there and have taken away every benefit that may have made that place competitive and attractive to work for .
To echo what the pilots have been saying about American Airlines I will reiterate, go fly someone else American Airlines is in a death spiral they are operating in a manner that is not safe and your dollar should be used elsewhere.
That’s a pretty serious accusation as a former employee, rather weak though in providing no specifics other than the usual galley gossip. Typical. It will be interesting if you are uncovered as to identity as I am sure AA legal will not appreciate an ex-employee spouting that “AA is unsafe and people should not fly them” on blogs specifically catered to regular flyers. Let’s hope if they do that you have some pretty strong evidence to your statement.
Sadly, the current management at AA is really America Wedt management pretending they know how to run a legacy carrier. They would trip over a dollar to save a penny. They are in over their collective heads and until the BOD gives them their walking papers, the downward spiral will continue.
The real AAmight have had issues but at tge end of the day they were proactive rather than reactive and were innovators not followers. Employees have had enough of apologizing for things totally beyond their control. Headquarters has their head in the sand, according to them, everything is great. That’s where your problem starts…
So, the basis of this entire article is because the author was eavesdropping on an AA FA’s conversation ?? Isn’t that kind of creepy.
No. Don’t move goalposts.
I run a page called ‘Pay Me for Boarding’ and started the petition that helped nudge Delta to pay for boarding that has over 170,000 signatures.
I was a flight attendant for 5 and a half years and it was mostly okay until the pandemic took the veil off and really started abusing their employees .
Most airlines are experiencing similar things. The companies take all of our time and then on our days off most of our time is dedicated to going back to work or arranging doctors appointments just to take care of ourselves. We aren’t compensated for SO much of our time (see: Delta paying 50% boarding). Before the pandemic the trips were more reasonable emotionally, physically and energetically. Now, we barely get any rest, are flown into our days off, have to wait for HOURS for communication from our companies, are fighting to get paid for hours that are accounted for!
You can talk about this on paper and finances all you want but you have no idea how challenging it is to be a flight attendant. Especially in the first 5 years. They say to hold out to 5 year pay but- it’s hard to make a living even before 4 year pay!!
They’re is no flexibility in our schedules (which is one of the main reason people stick around). Our rest is incredibly inconsistent. The customers have only gotten more challenging. When we’re in our uniforms, we’re on. We’re trained to be safety professionals.
This is across the board at all airlines. We’re TIRED. FMLA is insanely time consuming and can be really challenging to get approved for.
People are leaving the airlines left and right to find new careers or trying to find greener grass at other airlines. I have heard from many NEW HIRES who are shocked by how terrible things are and are leaving the industry immediately and staging mass class walkouts.
Y’all the cost of filling my gas tank has almost doubled since I started flying. Our hourly rate might look okay on paper, but at the end of the day you’re barely scraping by and I would dares say under minimum wage.
There are people sleeping in the airports and cars to survive. That’s not okay.
I can’t believe some of the things I’m reading in the comments.
We’re out here trying to live just like the rest of you. I can’t believe someone called flight attendants “bottom feeders.” Who raised you????????
I am of the opinion if you are unhappy with your situation be your own champion and make a change. I see help wanted signs everywhere I go. Evidently for about the same payscale. The very minimum you will be home everyday.
Really? Why have I not heard anything about this petition (or you). FAs talk, as I’m sure you know. You really should go talk to the AFA—none of their carriers pay for boarding.
You are probably looking for sympathy in the wrong place. Too many of us have dealt with your entitled nastiness over the years. Not all, but many. EVERYONE is dealing the past 2+ years and EXHAUSTED. Not just flight attendants. Once again though you place yourself at the center of the universe and gripe about the same things you have for 30 years but now with a Covid slant to it. This is not new. If your employers listened to and gave in to all of your complaints you would only have to open and close doors and be making $200K a year.
I, for one, don’t care. Don’t like your job and pay? Leave. Please, for everyone’s sake, just leave.
On behalf of everyone who actually works in the airline industry, please rent a car and drive from now on. Your attitude and unkind works are deplorable. Flying from A to B safely is a good day. If you have such a horrific attitude towards others then please do us all a favor and stay off an actual airplane. Please and thank you.
On behalf of everyone required to fly and who bailed your ungrateful asses out with billions in taxpayer money, find a different job. We will keep flying and remind you of this every day until you either do just that or start acting like mature adults who are hired to do a pretty basic job and expected as such by customers.
I actually love my job, thanks 🙂
Wow Stuart, I’d be curious to know what happened to make you hate flight attendants so much. This sounds like more of a personal issue than a professional one. I hope you can understand that you can’t generalize an entire group of people.. maybe one day you’ll have something nice to say about the professionals in the aviation world….
I was a flight attendant for American Airlines back in 1995. My starting annual salary was $15,000 and was required to live in the most expensive city in America, New York City. It takes 5 years to make A-Scale pay which was about double the pay. I knew and anticipated this going into this career.
I absolutely could not imagine how anyone could survive in this economy as a new hire F/A.
Two decades is not a senior flight attendant at AA. Not by a long shot.
Fa’s and pilots are not the only airline employees that are being used up and thrown away. All gate and ramp staff are doing the jobs of 3 agents. This is causing the airlines to lose loyal paxs because of the attitudes of all other employees. New hires are running away faster than they can be hired. The worst part of all, local managers will not allow employees to attend training classes that teach them how to do the job safely and effectively. Something bad is going to happen and the greedy airlines know this. Sorry for the rant
In comparison to how much an airline pilot makes, I wonder how much a Greyhound bus driver makes driving passengers to their destinations.
If the airlines keep cancelling flights, I would gladly ride Greyhound from the west coast to the east coast even if it takes three days sitting in a bus.
Having to sit in an airport lobby wondering when a passenger is going to fly after a flight was cancelled is agonizing and unnerving.
Off topic. For the author: “The flight attendant, who considers themself very loyal…”. What’s happening to our English? “Flight attendant” is singular. “Themself” is incorrect. The singular is “himself /herself”. The plural is “themselves”. “Them” is plural as is “they”.
Something else is catching on with Americans using “these ones” to describe something or things. “These” is plural, “I like these flowers.” For singular it would be “I like this flower.” “I like this one.” It’s not pointing at a single flower and staring “I like these ones.” “Ones” is incorrect also. One is one, singular. “I like this one.” Or “I like these. PERIOD. No “ones” added,
Indication of the American education system!
And I am a nearly forty year flight attendant. And I doubt airline management teams care one iota about the comments shared here and on any other blog. If they can sell seats and get your money, they have accomplished their goal to satisfy stockholders with stock value and dividends and earn themselves bonuses, That is the American way! What happens to the “customers” is hardly important. Their tickets are paid for and the cash is in the bank.
I hope Stuart never flies again because he is clearly clueless about what airline industry employees have endured and doesn’t care to listen and learn. Stuart, stay off planes, take the bus, take the train or drive yourself because you don’t deserve to fly.
I work for AA, though not as a flight attendant. I used to be incredibly proud of my company and loved my job. Now I feel like I am in a toxic relationship and I’m embarrassed of my company. I no longer have faith that Senior management knows how to run our airline and I no longer believe that they care about our customers let alone us as employees. I am watching my colleagues leave and I don’t know that I won’t be far behind. And it actually breaks my heart.
I fly every few days. And trust me, neither I nor the hundreds of millions of taxpayers who bailed you out the past two years will expect anything less than you doing your job, not complaining, and properly executing your duties. Period. If you don’t like it, go work at Starbucks where you will find they actually work and do so with a smile.
As a former flight attendant, and married to an AA pilot who has gone from one merger to another, I have NEVER seen a competent management in place at any airline in the last 50 years! Right now, it looks like AA is being managed by the same people who took over Sears (and many other businesses over the years) – namely equity fund managers, who run a business to ruin it, and make maximum profits for the management members. I believe that if not ALL airlines, most, are well behind their obligations to union members on contract negotiations. They received 50B from the government to keep airlines afloat, but misused the funds. NOW, because of their management incompetence, they are bringing down the industry, claiming insufficient numbers of employees, then blaming weather (a constant in the industry), These are a result of incompetent management decisions! Instead of just offering furloughs, they offered retirement, never considering what they would do when the traveling public returned, and they would need these employees once again. YES, airline management is greedy, incompetent, lacking forward thinking, and not knowing how the hell to run a multi-billion dollar business!!!!!!
What does Stuart do that puts everyone so far beneath him? Humble yourself dude. You’re a pawn just like the rest of us.
I work on the ground for AA, Started before the merger. And I can confirm that it is a shit show everyday. We are over staffed yet short handed everyday somehow. Upper management shoves work schedules down our throats because “it’ll work” but it doesn’t. There is almost no leadership from anyone in a position of leadership, and as much as they push their agenda to treat everyone fairly and with respect, they disregard and don’t give 1 shit about the lives and time that everyone who works for the airline sacrifices to keep the planes in the air. Many of the “old heads” have retired and left, and they’ve hired a bunch of new people who have no clue or don’t care about the job. I honestly don’t know how much longer the airline can keep this up. I can see it going into bankruptcy again. I’ve started saving everything I can so that I can be prepared for my exit.