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United Airlines Offered Flight Attendants Triple Pay to Help with Operational Chaos

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

United airlines faced severe operational challenges during late June and the 4th July holiday, partially attributable to complications arising from thunderstorms along the East Coast.

Between June 24 and July 2, 47% of United's primary flight schedule experienced delays, while 15% of flights were cancelled. Furthermore, FlightAware calculated that over 1000 United flights were subject to delays on Sunday alone.

This logistical meltdown not only affected United’s passengers but also left staff stranded after the airline reportedly lost track of cabin crew during the disruption.

United’s CEO Scott Kirby accused The Federal Aviation Administration’s(FAA) staffing issues and the bad weather for the “unprecedented challenges” faced over the weekend.

However, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) holds the airline’s management accountable, stating that “United [was] the only airline still struggling to recover” from these difficulties resulting in a situation which was both “unreasonable and unacceptable”

United’s stopgap strategy for dealing with the disruption was to offer their flight attendants up to three times their pay to incentivise the workers to take up additional unplanned shifts. This policy has previously been utilised by United and will undoubtedly be applied again until the airline discusses their operational problems with CWA who “know how to fix the issue… and repair badly damaged morale”.

The union further stated that United’s poor treatment of flight attendants “isn’t a new issue” and that the company refused to listen to their concerns raised last summer, instead, scheduling flights “to the max”.

The scheduling division, along with the hotels and crew transport departments, all have inoperably low staffing numbers, which, according to the union, leaves workers in challenging situations when they attempt to contact the airline about these difficulties.

Moreover, whilst multiple stranded attendants were left on hold for an average of 4+ hours, with one attendant waiting over 15 hours, Kirby chartered a private jet to distance himself from the drama unfolding in Newark, reflecting the company’s own attempt to escape accountability. United stated that it did not make any payment for the private aircraft, giving rise to speculation that instead of chartering a plane for business-related reasons, Kirby hired a private flight for a recreational holiday.

United’s flight attendants have been forced to rely upon external unions such as the CWA to improve their unsatisfactory work conditions, in contrast to airlines like Delta, which use an internal model to resolve disputes.

Additionally, despite the growing tension between the union and United, the airline is apparently resistant to implement CWA’s demands, with the union calling for more immediate action from United: “Every minute wasted in their decision-making is a minute too late for recovery and delivering the public reliable, efficient air travel”.

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