The union representing United Airlines flight attendants has complained that United’s resumption of snack and alcohol sales onboard creates a “toxic environment” that does not prioritize the safety of flight attendants.
United Flight Attendants: Toxic Environment Created By Onboard Snack and Alcohol Sales
Last week, Live and Let’s Fly reported that United would resume buy-on-board sales on more routes starting next month.
Those include United’s longer Hawaiian and transcontinental routes.
In addition to snack boxes and other snacks being offered for sale, a number of alcoholic drinks will also be available for purchase.
When writing my article, I reached out to the Association of Flight Attendants for comment. A spokesperson told me:
These are extremely limited routes and service is being reinstated along with COVID travel precautions. Purchases will utilize contactless payment to minimize touch points between crew and passengers.
Signs of recovery have emerged as vaccinations go up and infections decline. We all must keep up important COVID safety and health measures to ensure these trends continue.
I was a bit surprised by the response, thinking there would be more pushback. As the AFA seemed onboard with the re-introduction of service, I decided not to write a separate story.
United Flight Attendant Union Firmly Against Onboard Snack and Alcohol Sales
But not more than a week later, the AFA is now decrying the restoration of service onboard. In a note to flight attendants, the AFA argued that it is still not the right time to resume snack and alcohol sales:
The new addition of snacks and the rollout of alcoholic beverages in particular, creates an even more difficult situation for working crew. In addition to already prolonged contact with passengers, reports are that United’s sales software is glitchy creating frustration for both crew and passengers alike, and we are now providing more opportunities to remove masks for eating and drinking.
We’ve said this before, but introducing alcohol to this mix creates even more problems. In addition to having the mask off longer to consume alcoholic beverages, it’s a fact that alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgement and creates a toxic environment for Flight Attendants already struggling with mask compliance.
While we are on the road towards recovery with vaccinations and federal mask mandates, we are not yet at a place where the sale of food and particularly alcohol, amidst a continuing pandemic is the right decision. United wants to “meet the needs of our passengers,” they should also more importantly “meet the safety needs of their Flight Attendants.
We cover many alcohol-related stories of passenger misbehavior on Live and Let’s Fly and I am inclined to agree with the flight attendants here when it comes to alcohol. While alcohol is far too big a revenue generator for airlines to leave off the table permanently, alcohol overconsumption is often the root of onboard misbehavior. In an era in which flight attendants have become mask enforcers, this creates an added layer of stress. However, it is also true that the vast majority of passengers consume alcohol responsibly onboard.
I’m not sympathetic to the outcry over snacks, as passengers can already bring onboard whatever food and non-alcoholic drink they want and consume it without their mask. Should a passenger who did not properly prepare be forced to suffer onboard a 10-hour flight to Honolulu?
As for United’s contactless payment system, I’ve only heard good things about it from both passengers and cabin crew members. Eliminating the option of swiping cards seems like a generous concession United has provided flight attendants. Furthermore, since access to united.com and the United app are free over United’s wi-fi network, passengers can add their credit card information onboard (though would have to pay for wi-fi service to download the United app).
United flight attendants are not happy about the resumption of buy-on-board service on several additional routes next month. The AFA contends this is dangerous and will further exacerbate mask compliance issues.
What do you think about the flight attendant position? Is now the time to restore more onboard service or should airlines wait a bit longer before selling snacks and alcohol onboard?