February 22, 2024

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Why flight attendants don't get paid by the hour for time on the ground: NPR

Why flight attendants don't get paid by the hour for time on the ground: NPR

American Airlines flight attendants, represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), staged a sit-in outside Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport last August in Arlington, Virginia.

Kevin Deitch/Getty Images


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American Airlines flight attendants, represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), staged a sit-in outside Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport last August in Arlington, Virginia.

Kevin Deitch/Getty Images

If air travel is unusually stressful for you these days, you've got company.

Flight attendants are exasperated by full flights and smaller staff. They say managing passenger safety and their on-board experience is more stressful than ever. Now, flight attendants are hoping airlines will come forward with a major change in how they pay their wages.

Even frequent flyers may not realize that on most airlines, flight attendants don't record the time of payment until you hear the phrase “plane doors are now closed.”

It's an old practice that the hosts want to change.

On Tuesday, as contract negotiations continue at a number of airlines, flight attendants will picket dozens of airports across the United States to draw attention to this request and others.

Not as simple as punching in and punching out

“We have a lot of time in our days that we don't get paid,” says Julie Hedrick, a flight attendant for American Airlines and president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union for flight attendants.

This unpaid time — which can be up to five or six hours a day — includes all the hours flight attendants spend at airports, waiting for their next flight, as well as all the time it takes to get people and their bags on the plane and into their correct places. Places.

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“This is the most chaotic and difficult time of our day, and we can do four to five ascents a day,” Hedrick says.

Airlines say your time on the ground is compensated

Airlines say those hours spent on the ground are actually compensated. “Contrary to union accounts, we pay flight attendants for boarding time through a payment mechanism negotiated with the union in previous contract cycles,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement on its website.

That “payment mechanism” is a minimum wage guarantee, says Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the union that represents flight attendants at Alaska, United and a number of other airlines.

Nelson says a very common formula is to guarantee one hour of paid flight time for every two hours of service.

A simple example: If a flight attendant arrives at the airport early in the morning for her first flight and ends her day 12 hours later, she is guaranteed six hours' pay even if she has not been in the air for six hours.

“This doesn't fly anymore because of the way aviation has changed,” Nelson says.

Not only do flights often sell out, but planes are designed to hold more seats. Unruly passengers are on the rise. Since September 11, 2001, flight attendants have served as the last line of defense in aviation security.

“These are important duties that we have to perform in addition to keeping everyone calm on the plane,” Nelson says, referring to a recent emergency on an Alaska flight when a panel flew off the plane, leaving a large hole.

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According to the Department of Labor, flight attendants earn about $38,000 a year on the low end and nearly $100,000 a year on the high end.

“First-year flight attendants are getting real close to the state minimum wage,” Nelson says.

Half boarding time fare on Delta

There is a major airline that pays flight attendants for boarding time. In 2022, Delta began paying its flight attendants half the hourly rate for 40 to 50 minutes of boarding. Depending on the type of aircraft and the destination you are heading to. Notably, Delta is the only major US airline whose flight attendants are not unionized, and some saw the move as an attempt by the airline to discourage unionization.

American and the union that represents its flight attendants have now agreed to pay boarding fees similar to those paid by Delta, says Hedrick, the APFA president, but the union is still pressing on other issues.

“We all, of course, feel like we should be paid from the moment we get to work until we go home, but we have to look at the whole package,” she says.

APFA is pushing for an immediate 33% increase. In its last offer, American offered a third of that amount.

Under federal law, flight attendants cannot strike without permission from the federal government. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants says contract talks have reached an impasse and flight attendants should be allowed to strike.

Kevin Deitch/Getty Images

So the hit is not easy to secure

While the hosts hope to make some noise about these issues at Tuesday's sit-in, don't expect a strike anytime soon. Under federal law, it is illegal for airline workers to strike unless they get permission from the federal government.

American flight attendants requested that permission last fall and were denied, frustrating Hedrick amid a wave of labor actions last year.

“UAW, UPS, Writers Guild, Actors Guild — not that they all went on strike, but they pushed it to this point and were able to get the contracts they deserved,” she says. .

The APFA has once again asked federal mediators to declare an impasse in contract talks at American Airlines, paving the way for a strike. The union is scheduled to present its case to federal officials in Washington next month.

Currently, contract negotiations continue. The airlines say they have offered flight attendants competitive wages and benefits and are looking forward to reaching an agreement.