As United Airlines re-introduces pre-departure beverages and explores upgrades to its longhaul business class meal service, the union representing United flight attendants is pushing back, citing the high transmissibility of omicron variant.
AFA Union Lobbies For New Service Reductions On United Airlines
A January 11th debrief memo from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) to flight attendants notes “the new Omicron variant is less severe than either the original COVID-19 or Delta variants, but is much more transmissible, even among those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.”
Indeed, while roughly 3,000 United employees are currently positive for COVID-19, none are hospitalized.
> Read More: 3,000 United Airlines Employees Currently Positive For COVID-19
The memo notes that Alaska Airlines responded to AFA concerns over omicron by limiting “in-flight services to one beverage service in the main cabin on all flights, and no meal service at all on medium-haul trips.” Specifically, Alaska Airlines is temporarily eliminating the sale of fresh food onboard and will limit the number of pre-ordered drinks or snacks allowed from 63 to 42 through the month of January.
Now, the AFA has “approached United management about curtailing services in an ongoing effort to reduce opportunities for transmission of the virus.” The AFA warns:
“[G]reater enhancements to service components amidst one of the most severe COVID surges to date, is something that needs to be challenged. And, we are challenging the thought process behind this decision-making especially as instances of positive COVID tests are on the rise…
“While we can all agree that increasing the level of service for our passengers needs to be a priority, priorities can and should be weighed against other external factors. We are hopeful that United’s assessment of the risks associated with the continued introduction of these service enhancements at this time outweighs their introduction during this period of increasing COVID transmission.”
Presently, United is reviewing the request.
Earlier this week, Live and Let’s Fly noted that United plans a February trial of more service elements (like expanded dessert offerings) on longhaul business class flights. The AFA is asking United to delay such service elements and continues to request that United scrap pre-departure beverage service.
> Read More: Warmed Mixed Nuts Return To United Airlines, With More Service To Come
Citing Alaska Airlines, the AFA is asking United Airlines to cut back in-fight service, which it says is increasing the risk of coronavirus spread. Thus far, United Airlines has not responded to the flight attendants’ requests.
Do you think the flight attendants union has a point?
image: United Airlines
More like Sara Nelson wants her FAs to have more Candy Crush time
The service needs to be greatly enhanced if UA wants to become the world’s best airline. Let the FAs quit if they don’t want to provide service
Absolutely right Derek. Enough of this planning for yesterday theatre – United already had a long way to go to have competitive onboard service before COVID. There’s so much more the airline should be providing the flight attendants to enhance service, and more the flight attendants can do to participate in that.
Sara Nelson is a complete disaster. I really hope United doesn’t listen to her. The flight attendants are already way lazier than they were pre covid. In the 7 flights I’ve been on since the pre departure beverage service returned, only one of my flights has actually had the service. Really disappointing.
Nothing Sara Nelson says is about safety, it’s about power, control, and trying to make flight attendants do the bare minimum.
You clearly know nothing
about how many FAs have gotten sick and possibly brought it home to a loved one who died or is stuck dealing with Longhauler Covid. You can make an opinion based on ignorance or misinformation, but it doesn’t serve any real purpose. Maybe go for a walk and enjoy nature or spend time with family or friends. Go do something positive.
I agree with you 100%! She has always been power-hungry! I’ve been a flight attendant for 28 years and this is just pure laziness! If you’re already on the airplane serving one drink what does it matter how many you do or when you do it! We are acting as if this virus is magical And can pick and choose!
Less service on UA’s current international flights? Would anyone notice?
Don’t worry FA Unions, the 7 billion plus in this planet will have natural immunity to the Ligma variant by the end of January. No amount of reduced service will stop the virus in its current form. Embrace it. Lick doorknobs if you have to.
If the goal was safety WHILE PROVIDING SERVICE, then there’s a different way to approach the issue. MORE service, not less.
For example: Instead of a single cabin service on medium haul flights to distribute food and drink, instead make it 2 or even 3 to social distance: Serve every other row and then wait a few minutes for people to finish up and then serve the leftover row(s).
Here’s another “more service” type thinking: If the pandemic is critical to safety, then the FA’s should be spot cleaning the lavatories regularly. How about this? If speaking spreads germs, encourage passengers to use the FA call button. I’m sure they’d LOVE that! 🙂
I’ve thought for many years that on short hops of under an hour I’d rather no service be provided. It’s just stressful for FA’s and passengers. I think we can all survive that 45 minute STL-ORD hop without a diet coke. But for long-haul flights, it should be provided. Flight attendants no longer want to be air waitresses but they took the job knowing it required serving passengers, not just telling us that they are doing us a favor as they are there for safety and to be the mask police. It’s crazy.
Why doesn’t Nelson just push for United to mandate N95 masks for flight crew? After all, that would be the safe thing to do. If keeping high service standards intact while maintaining top notch safety for flight attendants is the goal, this would work perfectly.
Very good point.
Working a flight to points afar in an N95 would change their “outlook”….if they survived. It’s nye on impossible to stay in one more than a couple of hours, MAX,
Lets remember. FA are on board for your safety. You may not like this answer, its the truth. Federally mandated for flight with more than 19 pax. Airlines saw this as an opportunity to earn more money buy offering food and beverage services.. hence taking away or lessening the true meaning of Flight Attendant.
The amount of money you pay for a flight does not mean you get better service all the time. This is a pandemic and we are learning how to manage this and still enjoy life. In time, you will get your warm nuts and beer. But for now.. relax and bring a book to occupy your time.
With all due respect Bruce, this isn’t 1920 and flight attendants need to be doing more than playing on their phone or reading the newspaper.
Quit your job. You suck at it anyway.
Oh really? And what’s the median age of an FA on a long haul international flight? You know, huge planes with lots of people and FAs that are matronly/grandfatherly because they’ve “put in their time” and “have earned” the nice trips? It’s certainly not under 30. Probably not even under 40. Probably around mid-50s. I sure as hell don’t think Beth at 55 years old, 5’6”, and 180lbs is going to be anything more than 100% a liability in an emergency. With a smoke filled cabin and a bunch of freaked out passengers. You’ll likely see pax taking care of half the in-flight crew. Now, being FA is not an easy job and FAs totally get treated like garbage a lot and I truly thank you for everything that you’ve done and dealt with through Covid, but let’s please dispense with the nonsensical notion that FAs are only there for our safety. That is simply not true in practical reality, or per airline mission statements about customer care, especially with United attempting to become a (laughable) world class airline. Come off it already…saying it more doesn’t make it true.
Betty Ong was 45, and I would take her cool, calm, and collected over any 25 year old! It’s not about “putting in your time” it’s about gaining experience. If she hadn’t died on September 11, she’d be in her 60s and you’d have to be a fool to think she wasn’t fully capable of maintaining safety and security of the cabin.
I went to wiki and looked up the history of flight attendants. Your argument mixes facts and conjecture: Yes, the FAA currently mandates FA’s for safety, but you are probably wrong about the history in that stewards predated the FAA and were primarily service based.
It’s common knowledge that until recently, air travel was expensive and to attract customers, service was a priority. It’s laughable to argue that airlines only provided stewards after compliance to make additional money selling food and this very travel blog is about elite status to replicate those days where the food and service was fully complimentary in all service classes.
All that said, this recurring discussion makes me wonder if perhaps the role of cabin security and service provider should be fully separated to avoid conflicts of interest. At the current time, FA’s are largely service providers who are low paid amateur security enforcers and the strain shows. Stores have loss prevention (shoplifting) staff, rather than expecting normal employees to act as amateur security. Perhaps have airlines train their own air marshals, two per flight, who should have specific physical, mental, and educational requirements and paid accordingly.
You may want to check your own facts. Flight attendants only predate the FAA because the CAB came before it but was dissolved through deregulation and responsibilities were handed over to the FAA. Flight attendants were on mail carriers as nurses to care for ill passengers. THEN inflight services began.
Here’s some more research. That reminds me: I love google. Back in the early 90’s, “altavista” required actual MONEY to pay for searching the web rather than having a zillion bookmarks in a text file. 🙂
(No URL. Gotta comply with the rules)
The copilot was required to assist the pilot in command as well serve food and drinks. With the improvement in passenger air travel the airlines began to reassess the responsibilities of seeing to passenger needs. In the early 1930’s Western Air was the first to hire stewards (male helpers).
These stewards were responsible for seeing to the passenger needs. Such as helping passengers board the aircraft, assisting with the baggage, serving refreshments and assuring that passengers put their cigars and cigarettes out.
By the late 1930’s, United Airlines, being the first, had hired stewardess, female helpers. These stewardess were registered nurses and the idea was that the passengers would feel much safer in the hands of the stewardess. Their responsibilities included attending to those who became air sick. Back in those days, the airplanes mostly DC-3, were very noisy and not as comfortable.
Stewardess also handed out snacks to the passengers. Stewardess at times were treated poorly by the male passengers groping, pinching and padding their butts. They were expected to work long hours making about $1 an hour and on average worked about 100 hours a month. Upon World War II the nurses left the airlines and joined the military. The airlines hired young women who were not nurses.
The airlines as part of their hiring practices required the women to take an oath in which they would not marry nor have children. If an attendant was to get married and or have a child the airlines would terminate their employment with the airline. Although, by the mid 40’s the airlines experienced a high turn over in stewardess to marriage. By the 1960’s, the flight stewardess were dressed in miniskirts and hot pants.
And the rest, as we say, is history. So Stewards were originally just the co-pilot doing some modern FA duties, then nurses who were mostly handing out snacks (since how often did a medical emergencies occur?) and only later now are security enforcers trying to get out of handing out snacks.
But it is pretty much a common theme throughout:
1) co-pilot handing out snacks.
2) nurses handing out snacks.
3) Trained service workers handing out snacks.
4) Security enforcers handing out snacks.
Fa´s shoud be doing something on the flight; if they are not serving passengers, they should be cleaning the plane, scrubbing the carpet, or something that makes the plane more sanitized or safe for passengers. On every flight you just see them either reading or playing something on their phones, so lazy! If they don’t want the job, they should quit.
And what do you think the pilots are doing after switching to auto-pilot? Reading their “manual”? But you wouldn’t dare to call them lazy, or tell them to clean the lav while they’re in there. Maybe we should just get a reinforced door for the flight attendants to sit behind and let them monitor the cabin with cameras instead. If you don’t see them, they are clearly just focused on their job.
The head Flight Attendant has to be elected to her post every year. She has to make a fuss so she can appear to be “fighting for the rights” of the FA’s. If not, off with her head, Next Victim.
Seriously, if you’re so worried about every little surface or handling of any items, YOU NEED TO STAY HOME. Every other employee is “handling” things – baggage, credit cards, door handles, keys, etc., etc. RIDICULOUS. United shouldn’t allow this – and therein lies the whole problem – they keep bowing to the dictates of employees instead of employees being eager to please the customer and their employer.
On this basis, waiters could also say they don’t want to serve customers at restaurants beaase of the possible spread of omicron. Oh and restaurants should also serve crappy turkey sandwiches as AA does but charge the price of a rehular meal. This is clearly not about safety but abusing covid to justify sitting in the galley and chatting or playing on their phones as is the new norm nowadays.
We are barely in the aisle as it is, Sara needs to worry about getting flight attendants triple time pay like Southwest, bunks on the 767-400 like Delta and stop meddling in things that aren’t contractual.
To be fair, Sara Nelson is not the UA AFA president. That’s Ken Diaz.
The amount of people that don’t know why flight attendants are onboard aircrafts for is absurd. They aren’t there to give you a coke. They’re there to get your ass off a plane if it comes down to it, or provide medical assistance if you need it. It’s why their training focuses on safety and not service.
Imagine what will happen when they learn both safety and service.
And yet some of the FA will run away if there is a medical scenario
The only running away I’ve seen a crew member do was to contact the pilots or get emergency equipment.
I would be fine with this as long as the FAs agreed to always maintain 1.5m distance, always wear masks in public, and not leave their hotel on layovers. Since safety is so important, I’m sure they’re all already doing that, so it shouldn’t be a big ask.
If they’re so worried about safety they can wear mandatory hazmat suits during the service and wipe down all the service items including b dirty dishes. Or else admit this is about wanting to do less work
Agree to reduce service but also their pay in the same proportion
Luckily, my travel is discretionary. I will not travel paid UA business class until pre-pandemic services are restored.
Yes, the FAs are only there for the 1 in 10,000,000,000 chance of an actual emergency. Not to provide a service.
We should apply that to all services…
Bank tellers aren’t there to process your transaction, they exist to show you how to lay down in the event of a robbery.
Taxi drivers aren’t meant to take you from point A to B. Their primary job is to make you wear a seat belt.
Staff in restaurants exist mainly to prevent food poisoning.
I could go on all day and night. The relative risk is far greater for robbery, car accidents & food poisoning than it ever was or will be from a flight emergency. Especially when you consider the degree to which someone could influence an outcome.
So yeah, get over yourselves. Bring me a drink or find a new job. You’re in the service industry.
You clearly have never worked as a taxi driver (no seat belt necessary), as a server (they don’t touch your food and yes, the chef focuses very much on avoiding food poisoning) or at a bank (they do not give any instructions to patrons in these events). Those things are NOT THEIR JOB.
Better examples? Let’s tell the fire department not to worry about your flower garden. Or tell police officers to stop worrying about air fresheners on rear view mirrors and focus on determining whether the person is a threat.
But sure, when you have a heart attack on a flight, I’m sure the crew will gladly bring you a Diet Coke.
The AFA is toxic and the worst thing that’s happened to the airline industry. They don’t consider that they won’t have a job if people stop flying their airlines… idiots
Dear Mr Kirby, as a global airline please have shared goals and values like the other mainline airline not only in US but all around the world. I recently flew Turkish airlines for my vacation, I could keep on talking about the service in business they offer, it’s outrageous to see how low standard United have gone specially with the attitudes of FA. Please tell ur employees passengers are not germs, on 15 hour flight to Johannesburg last summer not once the restroom was restored. NOT ONCE! Not once they walked in the SO CALLED Polaris aisle to pick up Trash. Why? Because ur paying customers are carriers of germs now? Does ur employees have a life outside job? If yes do they not see what they getting? Covid is long gone! Please stop making that an excuse to make ur employees not work the bare minimum. If someone is really sick to fly Mr Kirby I am sorry they need to retire! Standard of appearance in every American Airline is anyway the worst compared to the world, let’s not make sickness and laziness the new norm of Americas employee group.
Covid is long gone? . Pretty sure world wide positivity rates will discount that one.
A lot of these comments are so laughably out of touch and entitled. Quite frankly given the situation, even if omicron is less severe, the sheer numbers mean healthcare systems will be overwhelmed. This is not the time to have large amounts of people in a confined space sitting maskless. Preventing a collapse of the healthcare system and minimizing deaths of disabled and immunocompromised people (who will feel the pain of this even if they are vaccinated due to either inability to get medical care they need since hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID or being at elevated risk) is just a bit more important than getting nuts and orange juice before takeoff on a flight from DEN-IAH. Omicron will eventually go down, but half-assing the response and trying to actively make it worse during its peak by giving passengers things they don’t need helps no one.
Things such as eating indoors are a very risky endeavor and even though the air is filtered, the problem is that people are in close proximity. Something like bringing everything out covered (presented as well as possible) on one tray or staggering who is served when should be considered for longer haul flights when food service should be something to mitigate this while making sure people are fed decent food. Or in Y, doing what was done early on in by airlines such as DL by giving everyone a bag with a bottle of water and snacks that they can eat whenever they are hungry/thirsty so everyone isn’t sitting with their mask off at the same time (which btw was more than you usually got with cart service pre-covid). But frills such as pre-departure beverages, multi-course service etc are a wholly unnecessary risk right now.
I don’t dispute that AFA is a dysfunctional union that has been focused on protecting mediocre service. And even in this instance it’s ridiculous that they are focusing on reducing service instead of stuff such as mandating provision of N95’s and other proper PPE for crew, which can and will reduce the amount of them having to call out si k. I was in SEA a week ago and saw EVA Air crew all wearing full PPE and I know SQ and QR are doing the same. Or better yet if you really care about safety instead of political BS, push for a vaccine mandatemore aggressively and condemn your members who are making this whole thing worse by refusing to comply. We know cloth masks are ineffective and surgical masks don’t provide an adequate level of protection, yet every single US airline flight attendant I’ve seen wears those.
Appreciate your comment.
The only people who are more whiny than the FA union are medical personnel. We get it. You are working hard. So is everyone else.
As in any other business, there are good employees and bad employees. The attitude and work ethic of employees is affected by by their training, company values and how they are actually treated by supervisors and managers. This has all been disrupted by the world wide Covid 19 virus that has severely stressed organizations and individuals. No matter what you think of airlines and airline employees, please try to be respectful of people who are struggling to hold on to their jobs and stay healthy while worrying about their families at home. It does not take any more effort to be polite and positive as it does to be rude and disrespectful. The logistics of dispatching thousands of flights around the world while trying to accommodate and please passengers and making employees feel valued so that they will continuously provide a superior level of service is quite difficult. Our humanity is being tested and challenged everyday by this pandemic. Can we make an effort to be kind and empathetic when someone we are in contact with at the airport is having a bad day. Hate breeds hate and respect breeds respect.
Covid is not going away. It’ll be a part of our lives forever. This notion of “covid zero” is a pipe dream. After Omicron, there will be new variant. And another. And after that, yet another. Remember the flu? Somehow, we just learned to live with it. It’s time we do the same with covid.
Open everything and remove all covid policies. If you are immunocompromised, obese, elderly, hypochondriac, then take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe.
The flight attendants are spot on. With omicron no food on flights under 3 hours. Keep masks on the complete flight is safer for everyone