While taxpayer bailouts protected all U.S. airline jobs during the pandemic, United eliminated its international crew bases and many of those flight attendants are still without a job, even as United is now hiring new flight attendants. Should United hire these flight attendants back even if they cannot legally work in the USA?
Time For United Airlines To Re-Hire International Flight Attendants
First, let’s be clear. United Airlines did not simply fire flight attendants at bases in:
- Frankfurt (FRA)
- Hong Kong (HKG)
- Tokyo (TYO)
Instead, flight attendants were offered a transfer to a U.S. base (or London, the last remaining non-U.S. flight attendant base, but only if openings existed). But that required documentation to work in the USA and many of these flights attendants, who were Asian or European nationals, had no such paperwork. Thus, they were effectively sacked.
Under a deal negotiated with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), flight attendants from these closed international bases can still be rehired if they obtain documentation to work in the U.S. (or London) by March 31, 2023.
But with that deadline approaching, the AFA is pushing United to re-hire these flight attendants regardless of work status (i.e. re-open international bases) and has released a poignant new video showing some of the faces and stories of the displaced FAs:
Indeed, United is hiring throughout the company, including new flight attendants. Omar Idris, who is United’s chief at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) recently noted:
“We have 500 new airplanes coming to United Airlines over the next few years. That’s an airplane every three or four days for us, so we need folks to help work those aircraft.”
Therefore, there is a need for these flight attendants. If not now, soon. But should United hire them back?
My answer is yes. I realize that this is a complex issue and there is a certain degree of helpful uniformity in ensuring that all flights attendants can work in the U.S. (or UK). It is also true that the pandemic did change the world and in East Asia, United’s operations remain weak there.
But a former Frankfurt-based flight attendant put it well:
“With crew shortages all over the place, UA should make use of these fine former flight attendants they kicked down the cliff in 2020, and who had been praised for their dedicated service not only in online frequent flyer forums for decades beforehand. These folks would not need expensive initial training, all they require is requalification. They are scattered throughout Europe. And those who were stationed in HKG and NRT are all over the place in Asia. And many of them would return to flying today if it were offered to them. They are experienced and multi-lingual. Characteristics that are desperately sought after among flight crews now more than ever.”
United’s new slogan is “good leads the way” and while it may not be legally obligated to hire these flight attendants back, it should. Many of these flight attendants have given decades to United and were joyful and compassionate brand ambassadors in the air. Sure, their higher seniority will cost the company more, but it would be an important capstone in recognizing the shared sacrifice United employees went through during the pandemic.
In terms of corporate citizenship, this gesture means much more to me than carbon offsets and electric airplanes.
United Airlines is hiring again and displaced flights attendants are knocking at the door. The coming months strike me as the perfect time for United to show in a very tangible way that “good leads the way” by re-hiring these flight attendants who have given their careers to United but can (understandably) not secure the rights to work in the USA.