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AFA Continues to Block Reform at Frontier

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), which represents 4,100 flight attendants at Frontier Airlines, filed for federal mediation on Wednesday over the carrier’s operations overhaul. 


The union initially tried to block Frontier’s plans back in April, when they filed a dispute notice under the Railway Labor Act that governs airline industry labor relations. Frontier is seeking to overhaul its operations and switch to an out-and-back model to address its dismal on-time performance.  


In January this year, aviation analytic experts at Cirium crowned Delta Air Lines as the most on-time airline in 2023 with 84.72% of flights taking off and arriving as scheduled; Alaska Airlines followed in second with 82.25%; and American Airlines was third with 80.61%. 


Low-cost airline Frontier held a significantly lower rating of 68.68%, just above JetBlue at 68.33%. Frontier management promised a shake-up within company’s operations.    

Frontier Airlines received one of the lowest OTP ratings in the commercial aviation industry for 2023.

The airline has since been reworking its network so that almost all of its planes can return to their stations every night, in an attempt to emulate the out-and-back model inspired by European budget carriers and designed to minimize flight cancellations and delays. 


The new operational model is a shift from the model employed by most U.S. airlines, which typically fly multi-day trips with two or three overnight stays for cabin crews. If implemented, it could deliver a more reliable service for passengers and allow crew to return home each night.  


However, AFA union has filed with the National Mediation Board (NMB) to enact bargaining over Frontier’s operational change, which it claims "is causing a dramatic reduction in compensation while sharply increasing time on the job or commuting to it." 


Meanwhile, Frontier CEO Barry Biffle assured earlier this month that the carrier was adding crew bases to support its "ability to achieve our target of out-and-back flying by June and drive further network efficiency." 


The low-budget airline has estimated these changes will improve productivity, save $200 million this year, and raise customer satisfaction, as it tries to return to sustainable profitability and deliver double-digit profit margins in 2025. 


"Frontier’s new business model is shifting company costs to frontline workers, said AFA International President Sara Nelson.  

Sara Nelson is the International President of AFA-CWA, the union representing nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 19 different airlines.

"The harm to Flight Attendants is immediate and requires urgent bargaining to address the impact of the new business model." 


In a statement, Frontier, referring to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), said: "The company is ready and willing to negotiate with the AFA on the impact of its network changes within the context of our current active CBA negotiations."  


AFA argue Frontier’s new plan amounts to a wholesale change in the carrier’s business model which would drastically affect the compensation and out-of-pocket costs of flight attendants, resulting in an effective pay cut. 


But as travel expert Gary Leff previously argued in an article for View From The wing, what Frontier flight attendants are really afraid of is losing their tax-free per diems for when they’re on the road, as well as the cost of potentially moving to Denver. 


“… the problem for flight attendants is they’re being asked to transition to a job that’s more like what most other people have – live in the city where they report to work, and commute each day,” Leff argues.  


Leff’s argument suggests flight attendant unions like AFA are not prepared to meet in the middle or accept change. In fact, they seem to care little for customer experience and operational efficiency, with their ends instead seeming purely political. 


Meanwhile, the union which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines is proving inefficient at actually making ground in securing deals with airline management in tiresome and ongoing contract disputes, preferring to make ploys for attention by widening disputes – just as in the case with Frontier Airlines. 


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