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.
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?