Monday, March 31, 2008

Former NFL lineman fined for pushing flight attendant

Former professional football player Tyoka Jackson (in photo at right), who had been a defensive lineman for several NFL teams, was ordered by a federal jury to pay a flight attendant $3,000 for an incident that happened on board a Northwest Airlines flight between Memphis and St. Louis in 2005.

According to a news story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the flight attendant testified in court that Mr. Jackson pushed him, sending him "toppling onto a passenger and the armrest in seats across the aisle." Jackson was said to be upset because the flight attendant asked him to stow a laptop bag under the first-class seats.

Jackson's attorney, Tom Magee, said in his opening statement that Jackson "used only such force he thought was necessary to stop this man from touching him against his wishes. He was not trying to hurt him."

[The flight attendant] testified that Jackson did "not simply push me, he threw me across the airplane."

"His hands came up so fast and hit me in the chest, and back I went."
The flight attendant also testified that he suffered back pain, a deep leg bruise and anxiety. He said he finds it hard to work because he now fears confrontations with unruly passengers.

In their suit against Mr. Jackson, the flight attendant and his wife had asked for more than a million dollars, but last week jurors ordered Mr. Jackson to pay $3,000 to cover medical expenses incurred by the flight attendant, according to the Associated Press.

Tyoka Jackson played professional football in the NFL from 1994 through 2006, most recently for the Detroit Lions. Earlier he had played for the Miami Dolphins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the St. Louis Rams.

[Photo Source]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Delta Air Lines opposes flight attendant unionization

Delta Airlines logoAs I wrote here in Cabin Crew News last month, Delta flight attendants are seeking union representation. In that article I wrote:

Up to now, Delta flight attendants have not been unionized. Although there has been growing dissatisfaction with pay and work rules among the rank and file, it seems that the tipping point came as Delta began engaging in merger talks with other carriers. Now a growing number of Delta's flight attendants are acknowledging the potential value of representation by a formal collective bargaining unit such as the AFA [the Association of Flight Attendants].
On February 14, 2008, a majority of Delta flight attendants did indeed submit signature cards to the National Mediation Board (NMB), formally requesting union representation. Yesterday, the NMB officially announced that the flight attendants' request for election of a union had been authorized. In its letter to Delta Air Lines and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the NMB indicated that "the election will be conducted by Telephone Electronic Voting and Internet Voting."
The Notice and Sample Instruction will be sent out on April 16, 2008. The Voting Instructions will be mailed to the employees on April 23, 2008. The voting period will be from 12:01 a.m., ET, April 23, 2008, through June 3, 2008. The tally will take place at the Board's offices on June 3, 2008, at 2 p.m. ET.
Today, Delta's response to this news was to issue a press release with a very lengthy title:

Delta Flight Attendants to Decide on Union Representation; Company Says Direct Relationship with Management Best for Flight Attendants

That title, folks, is the story in a nutshell. But there is a longer version. The press release, referenced above, included the text of a statement from Joanne Smith, senior vice president – In-Flight Service and Global Product Development, as follows:
“Delta flight attendants will make one of the most important decisions of their careers over the coming months as they choose between a direct relationship with Delta’s management team or the cost and risk of a third-party representative,” Smith said. “Our flight attendants have long been successful at speaking for themselves and we continually demonstrate our willingness to respond quickly and directly to their individual and collective feedback. I’m asking all of our flight attendants to make an educated choice, based on fact.

“The facts are: Delta flight attendants have it better than what the Association of Flight Attendants’ has been able to deliver at other airlines, and those airlines’ contracts are not open to changes for several years to come – years in which Delta flight attendants will continue to enjoy higher rates of pay, a better profit sharing program and a better performance rewards program.

“In contrast, the AFA’s track record at other network carriers is not a good one. The AFA has demonstrated that its members have not been protected from pay cuts, job loss, pension termination or any other changes affecting the airline industry. And flight attendants at those other airlines also must pay hundreds of dollars per year in union dues.

“Delta has good momentum thanks to the hard work of all Delta people and we look forward to the ability to continue working on their behalf and responding to their feedback,” Smith continued.
An Associated Press article about the upcoming union election, published on Forbes.com and elsewhere, quoted Corey Caldwell, an AFA-CWA spokeswoman, who said Smith's statement is "typical, anti-union rhetoric that companies use."
"The truth is when there is a union on property, there's just as much communication with management as there was before," Caldwell said. "The only thing that changes is this time the flight attendants get to determine the issues and policies that affect them as a group instead of being dependent on the company to make decisions for them."
For further insight about what rank-and-file Delta flight attendants are thinking about the unionization issue, visit the Delta Voices page of the website opened by AFA to support the campaign by Delta flight attendants for unionization. There, dozens of Delta flight attendants have come forward publicly to share with their flying partners their reasons for supporting the move to unionize.

Should Delta's flight attendants succeed in their bid to unionize, they will be airline's the second major work group to have union representation. At the present time, only Delta's pilots are represented by a union; they are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cabin fire aboard Etihad Airways A330

News media in the Middle East are reporting that a fire erupted aboard an Etihad Airways A330-200 aircraft while it was in flight. According to the Gulf News, the incident happened on March 13, 2008 during the cruise phase of a flight between Dhaka, Bangladesh and Abu Dhabi, UAE. Cabin crew were able to extinguish the fire, and no injuries were reported amongst the 231 passengers, two pilots and 11 cabin crew on board the flight. The flight continued to Abu Dhabi, where it landed safely.

The Gulf News article about the incident quoted Iain Burns, vice-president of corporate communications for Etihad Airways, who explained that a passenger had lit a cigarette inside one of the aircraft's lavatories, and that the cigarette then ignited some toilet paper. The lavatory's smoke detector alarm activated, and the cabin crew responded. Mr. Burns said that "the flames were swiftly extinguished by our alert, calm and expertly-trained cabin crew."

In their story about the in-flight fire, the Khaleej Times noted that the passenger who started the fire "was not arrested on arrival at the Abu Dhabi International Airport but has been banned by Etihad from further travel with it." The passenger was not named.

Congratulations to the Etihad cabin crew for a job well done.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Flight attendant hiring freeze at United Airlines?

United Airlines logoEarlier this month when I was researching an article about the profit-sharing distribution to United Airlines flight attendants, I noticed that the carrier was continuing to hire new cabin crew. I mentioned it here, and posted a link to the flight attendant careers page on the airline's website.

Then I began to hear a rumor that United had suspended recruitment of new flight attendants. The rumor caught me by surprise, so I decided to find out if it was true. I'm sorry to report that this is indeed the case, according to information published on the website run by the United Airlines Master Executive Council (MEC) of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union representing United's flight attendants.

News of the hiring freeze is contained in a letter to United's AFA membership from Greg Davidowitch, President of the United MEC. Dated March 18, 2008, the letter addresses plans by the carrier to downsize its fleet, and discusses the potential impact of this move on United's flight attendants. Quoting from Mr. Dawidowitch's letter:

Undoubtedly, there will be an impact on our flying as a result of potential staffing decisions and which markets United may cut as a result of the downsizing of the fleet. At this time we can confirm that based upon our discussions with management there are no plans for a furlough as a result of today's announcement. United will implement a hiring freeze for the newest Members of our Flight Attendant community for classes that were originally scheduled to begin after March 31, 2008. There are no plans to release Flight Attendants who are currently in new hire training and we look forward to welcoming our newest flying partners on the line.
I trust that Mr. Dawidowitch is in a position to know what he is talking about, so there you have it. Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Air New Zealand's Chinese cabin crew pay scandal

Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ERAir New Zealand's Shanghai based cabin crew, who are Chinese nationals, are underpaid. In fact, that's an understatement. They are paid roughly one-quarter the salary of their Kiwi counterparts -- an amount that is less than the minimum wage in New Zealand. Why should Chinese cabin crew doing the same work, on the same aircraft, on the same route as New Zealanders, be paid less?

In addition to their salary, cabin crew are paid per diem allowances for time spent away from their home base. Air New Zealand's Chinese cabin crew earn a per diem allowance that is only one-third that paid to New Zealand nationals. Why are the Chinese cabin crew assumed to need less than New Zealanders to cover their meals and other expenses when they are overseas?

Keeping in mind that the Chinese cabin crew work alongside New Zealand crew members, doing identical work, this pay disparity is discrimination of the worst kind: Clearly, it is exploitation. New Zealand's government owns the majority of shares in its national carrier, making this situation even more scandalous to my mind.

Recent news stories about this situation, including one published a few days ago by the New Zealand Herald, recount further details.

NZ flight attendants have a starting base salary of at least $24,000 a year.

A source said crew also got $170 for each day they spent overseas, plus other flight allowances, which could add up to $15,000 a year.

The Chinese have an annual wage starting at $6240 and a daily away allowance of $55.

One Chinese air stewardess said her monthly base salary was $520 and she got an extra $4.30 for every hour of flight time. This totals much less than New Zealand's legal minimum wage of $11.25 an hour.
The carrier has attempted to excuse itself from responsibility by pointing out that the Chinese cabin crew are not direct employees of Air New Zealand; rather, they are employed through a Chinese staffing agency. Nevertheless, each reportedly has a New Zealand work permit, listing Air New Zealand as the employer. So then, why are they not paid according to the standard set for New Zealand employees?

Air New Zealand is not the only international air carrier engaging in this type of exploitation of Asian cabin crew members. For example, just last week I wrote about a trial, scheduled to take place today in Copenhagen, in which Scandinavian airline SAS is accused of having paid sub-standard wages to the 34 Chinese and 31 Japanese cabin crew hired since 2005. Those flight attendants were hired by SAS without Danish work permits, allowing the carrier to avoid paying them according to Danish standards. The feeble defense put forth by SAS, quoted in news articles, was that "the women were only in Danish air space for the few minutes it took to fly over the small Scandinavian country," and therefore were exempt from needing Danish work permits.

Rubbish. All of these kinds of cases boil down to carriers attempting to cut costs at the expense of their employees' welfare and dignity. We all know that, with fuel prices and other material costs soaring, these are tough times for the aviation industry, but any temporary economic advantage these companies gain by paying grossly substandard wages to certain employees based on their nationality is greatly overshadowed by human rights issues.

Since when is blatant exploitation good corporate policy? What has happened to the concept of equal pay for equal work?

[Photo Source]

Friday, March 14, 2008

ASA flight delayed by pesky mouse

ASA CRJ200The departure of an Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) flight was delayed for hours yesterday by what an Associated Press reporter referred to as "a mouse intent on flying to Atlanta." ASA Flight ASQ704 (operating as Delta Connection Flight 704) was grounded for hours at Des Moines International Airport after a flight attendant spotted a mouse aboard the CRJ-200 during a pre-flight safety check.

Passenger boarding was delayed on the Atlanta-bound flight until the aircraft could be inspected thoroughly for possible damage caused by the mouse. (Such critters can gnaw on wiring and other bits, and that could present a safety hazard.)

The flight, which had been scheduled to depart Des Moines at 05:50 local time, finally got underway at 11:52. News articles about the mouse incident quoted an ASA spokeswoman who said that all passengers had been rebooked on other connecting flights in Atlanta. It was unclear, however, if the mouse had been trapped or otherwise "deplaned" -- or if the little guy ultimately managed to make the trip to Atlanta after all.

I have a cat who could have made short work of that mouse. Maybe ASA should think about asking their flight attendants to bring their kitties to work with them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Turbulence incident seriously injures Mesa flight attendant

Mesa Air Group logoA Mesa Airlines flight attendant was severely injured last month when the flight on which she was working encountered serious turbulence over Colorado. She was knocked unconscious, and suffered spinal injuries that required surgery.

The incident happened on the morning of February 3, 2008 aboard a DeHavilland DHC-8-202 (Dash-8) turboprop aircraft. The aircraft, operated by Mesa Airlines as Air Shuttle Flight ASH 7106, was approaching Denver on a scheduled flight from Casper, WY when it encountered "serious turbulence."

According to a preliminary report about the incident issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

... the flight was descending on the RAMMS 5 STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) and was encountering "light chop." Approximately 5 miles inside RAMMS intersection, as it was descending from 14,000 feet to 13,000 feet, the flight encountered severe turbulence.

The captain called the flight attendant on the intercom, but she did not answer. An emergency medical technician (EMT), who was a passenger on the flight, answered and reported the flight attendant was lying on the floor unconscious.

The EMT and an off-duty United flight attendant tended to the injured flight attendant. The captain declared an emergency and the airplane landed at DEN. The flight attendant was transported to a hospital where she underwent surgery for several fractured vertebrae. [NTSB ID:DEN08LA055]
The NTSB notes that the captain suffered "minor injuries" in the same incident, however there were no injuries to the first officer and 19 passengers aboard the flight.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Scandinavian airline SAS on trial over Asian cabin crew

SAS logoA recent article on Forbes.com, the business news website, reported that "Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly hiring Chinese and Japanese flight attendants without Danish work permits." The airline is said to have paid sub-standard wages to the 34 Chinese and 31 Japanese cabin crew hired since 2005.

The news article says:

The prosecution is calling for SAS to pay a fine of 2 mln dkr and for an additional 5 mln dkr it says the airline saved by paying the flight attendants sub-standard wages, to be confiscated from the company.

Following pressure from the unions, the Danish Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs decided in 2006 to file suit against SAS, which is partially state-owned, for violating Danish labour laws.

SAS explained at the time that it needed the Asian air hostesses to attend to the needs of passengers flying between Europe and Asia, insisting that the women were only in Danish air space for the few minutes it took to fly over the small Scandinavian country.
I think the claim that the women were only briefly in Danish airspace is only a cover for the true issue: money. This sounds like just one more instance of a two-tiered pay scheme in which work is outsourced to 'foreign nationals' who are paid a lesser amount to do the same work as citizens of the carrier's home country. Last I knew, this was called exploitation.

The final day of the trial is scheduled for March 17, with a verdict expected about a week later, a judicial source told the news media.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cabin features on Delta's new Boeing 777-200LR

Last week, Delta Airlines took delivery of a new Boeing 777-200LR, the first of its type delivered to a U.S.-based carrier. The aircraft will be known as "The Delta Spirit."

The new aircraft will be the flagship aircraft for Delta’s new BusinessElite® global product, according to a Delta news release. The BusinessElite® cabin (see photo at right) includes the following features:

  • Reclining seats that adjust to multiple comfortable positions, including a completely flat 6-foot 3-inch bed
  • Privacy screens incorporating pull-out meal table, fold-out 10.6-inch personal video screen, integrated footrest and personal stowage compartment for bags, shoes or blankets
  • Immediate access to the aisle so customers do not have to disturb another passenger when exiting their seat
  • USB ports offering charging ability for personal MP3 players
The airline plans to have similar sleeper suites installed on all of the B-777 aircraft in its fleet by 2010.

Economy passengers flying on the new B777-200LR aircraft will enjoy comfortable new all leather slim-line seats, manufactured by Weber Aircraft LP. The Weber seats have ergonomically designed cushions, and provide additional under-seat storage. Each seat has on-demand music, movies, games and television on individual 9-inch video monitors.

The aircraft is set to begin scheduled service tomorrow (March 8, 2008) with a flight between Atlanta and Los Angeles. The first international run for Delta's new B777-200LR, will be on March 9 when it flies from Atlanta to Tokyo.

[Photo Source]

Thursday, March 6, 2008

United Airlines flight attendants get profit sharing distribution

United AirlinesThis week, flight attendants at United Airlines flight are receiving profit-sharing payments related to the airline's 2007 performance. United's US-based flight attendants can expect to receive a profit-sharing payment of about $1,200, before withholdings, for every $30,000 of eligible earnings, according to a news release issued by the airline.

This is the second year United provided profit sharing to its employees and the benefit is part of their union contracts. Under the terms of their union's contract, which was negotiated during the airline's bankruptcy, United's flight attendants receive their profit-sharing award in the form of a company contribution to their 401(k) accounts.

United Airlines flight attendants are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).

By the way, United is continuing to recruit new flight attendants. Click here for more information on becoming a United Airlines flight attendant, and an online application.

[Illustration Source]

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Disruptive Delta passenger offloaded, jailed in Bangor

Delta Airlines Flight DL176, a Boeing 767-300 aircraft, diverted to Bangor, ME on the evening of February 29, 2008 due to a disruptive passenger. The flight had been en route from Atlanta to Dublin, Ireland when a male passenger became unruly, assaulted another passenger, and made threatening statements. He was taken into custody at Bangor International Airport and remanded to the Penobscot County Jail. The flight later resumed its journey to Dublin.

The passenger was identified in news reports as 44 year old Aiden Mackle, of Portadown, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland. He appeared in U.S. District Court yesterday, charged with interference with a flight crew and assault. An article on the Bangor Daily News website reported the following details about the incident:

The man, who had been visiting family in San Diego, became unruly Friday night about 2½ hours after the plane left Atlanta about 9:10 p.m., according to court documents. Mackle allegedly drank three or four of the small bottles of wine sold onboard. He then allegedly went to the restroom and illegally smoked a cigarette.

When a flight attendant confronted him about the smoking and told the captain she was dealing with an unruly passenger, Mackle allegedly said he was associated with Osama bin Laden and was going to hijack the plane.

Mackle also punched an off-duty Delta employee and told airline employees that he was a terrorist, according to court documents.
A USA Today article about the incident added that, according to an affidavit presented in court, Mackle "...responded to an off-duty AirTran Airways pilot who told him that the flight may have to make an emergency landing, 'OK, I'm a terrorist. Go ahead and land the plane,' and then proceeded to punch an off-duty Delta flight attendant who warned him that he may have to be restrained."

A detention hearing is scheduled for March 5, 2008 to determine whether Mackle will be released on bail.

UPDATE March 10, 2008: The Boston Globe reported today that a federal judge has denied bail to Mr. Mackle. The news article said, "After a 40-minute hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk found probable cause for the charges and sided with Amie Blanchette of the U.S. Probation Office who testified that Mackle should be detained to insure that he will show up for trial." He will continue to be detained, pending trial on charges of assault and interfering with a flight crew.