Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Delta flight attendants accuse management of suppressing union voters

Delta Airlines logoFlight attendants at Delta Air Lines voted earlier this year to unionize. A majority of Delta flight attendants already have submitted signature cards to the National Mediation Board (NMB), indicating that they wanted to be represented by a formal collective bargaining unit, even though Delta management has openly opposed the move toward flight attendant unionization.

Last week, Delta flight attendants began the next phase, casting their votes to decide whether the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) will be certified as their collective bargaining representative. The voting process, carried out under the supervision of the NMB, will continue until May 28, 2008. According to the rules, a majority of the entire flight attendant workforce must cast a vote in order for the election to be valid. Anything less than this majority turnout will void the election entirely, even if the union gets a clear majority of the votes cast.

Apparently the management of Delta Air Lines is persisting in its opposition to the union election, employing what AFA activists describe as "tactics of intimidation and interference, pushing flight attendants not to vote for the union." Earlier this week, a number of Delta flight attendants met with Congressional leaders to brief them on "Delta management’s aggressive voter suppression campaign during the current AFA-CWA representation election."

In a news release about their meetings with Congressional officials, the Delta flight attendants explain:

Management’s anti-union voter suppression campaign gained the attention of Capitol Hill earlier this month, prior to the start of the vote. In the U.S. Senate, 26 Senators submitted a letter to Delta Air Lines executives urging them to “demonstrate a genuine commitment to cooperative labor relations” and to remain neutral in this election. Delta executives never responded to the Senators’ letter. At the very moment Anderson was testifying in a U.S. House hearing on Delta’s announced merger with Northwest Airlines, management’s latest anti-union, voter suppression packet – with letters and a DVD – was being mailed to all flight attendants’ homes.

“Actions speak louder than words and management’s actions right now clearly indicate that they want to prevent us from having a union and having the right to negotiate a legally binding contract,” said Mara Levene, a Delta flight attendant and AFA-CWA activist. “Management will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do not have a voice. A solid majority of Delta flight attendants wanted this election and despite management’s fear tactics, bullying and intimidation, we remain determined and are voting for AFA-CWA representation.”
Delta CEO Richard Anderson testified in Congress last week that "management was supportive of the democratic process and would not engage in illegal interference." Not so, says Patricia Friend, AFA International President. “Their current actions to keep flight attendants from voting are anti-democratic and are a disgrace. Delta flight attendants have earned and deserve the right to have a voice in their future and a seat at the table,” said Ms. Friend.

Delta currently is seeking approval for a planned merger with Northwest Airlines. It is worth pointing out that Northwest's flight attendants already are represented by AFA. Delta's flight attendants have never had union representation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Video spoof of airline 'buy-on-board' amenities

We all know that, in recent times, airlines have been cutting back on amenities offered in the passenger cabins. Meals, beverages, snacks, pillows, blankets, magazines -- you name it! -- either it no longer exists, especially in the economy section, or else flight attendants are now tasked with offering these items for sale, or collecting fees from passengers for their use.

How far will this practice go? Which items will be charged for next? This MADtv video presents the extreme case. Let's hope it never comes to this:

(If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Asian cabin crew dispute

SAS logoLast month I reported that Scandinavian airline SAS went on trial in Copenhagen for allegedly employing Asian flight attendants without Danish work permits. The airline also was accused of paying the Asian cabin crew members substandard wages.

The matter was heard in the Copenhagen City Court, and the Copenhagen Post reports that SAS was found guilty of the charges and fined DKK 900,000. SAS has appealed the verdict to the Danish High Court.

Meanwhile, legislation has been proposed in the Danish Parliament to allow SAS, which is partly owned by the Danish government, to use Chinese personnel on its route between Copenhagen and Beijing. Now the Copenhagen Post is reporting that if parliament does not allow SAS to use Asian cabin crew, the airline has said it may re-register its planes in Norway or Sweden.

The Copenhagen Post article quotes Lars Sandahl Sørensen, CEO of SAS International, who said, "Although it's a solution we'd rather avoid, we might be forced into it."

Planes registered in Denmark are required to operate with personnel who are legally allowed to work in Denmark. The same permit rule may exist in Sweden and Norway as well, but Sørensen said, "...if it does then it would only apply to those countries' own airspaces, and not to Denmark." In other words, the plan seems to be to fly the Beijing-Copenhagen route with planes registered outside of Denmark, in order to dodge the Danish work permit rule.

Sørensen said that employing Chinese crews has nothing to do with paying them lower wages and everything to do with service.

"It's integral for us to have Chinese cabin crews on our flights to China because half the passengers are Chinese," he said. "And it's hard to provide good service for them if we can't communicate."

Sørensen said SAS could not pay the Chinese flight attendants Danish wages because it would create a huge salary disparity between them and their colleagues working on the ground in mainland China. The Chinese crew members earn around 10,000 kroner less per month than their Danish counterparts.
This argument sounds similar to excuses given by Air New Zealand for paying its Chinese cabin crew a fraction of what it pays New Zealand nationals to do identical work. Verner Lundtoft, president of the Cabin Attendants Union, says that the SAS threat to sidestep Danish law is "appalling," and I agree.
"We're talking about a partially state-owned and listed company attempting to avoid the requirements of Danish law," said Lundtoft. "It's completely unacceptable."

Lundtoft pointed out that none of SAS' competitors have employed Asian personnel on their China routes without providing equal working conditions.

"Finnair says it pays their Asian crews Finnish wages, Lufthansa has Chinese cabin crew members earning German scale pay, and Air France has interpreters on board its Asian flights," said Lundtoft.
Apparently SAS can legally re-register its planes in Sweden and Norway, as the airline is a Scandinavian-operated company. It remains to be seen if this will solve the labor issue, however.

It's time for all international air carriers to pay all crew equally for equal work, regardless of ethnicity or national origin. No excuses!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Several injured in severe turbulence incident on United Airlines DEN-PHX flight

United Airlines A320Earlier this week, a United Airlines flight encountered severe turbulence while en route from Denver to Phoenix. Several people on board were injured, including at least one flight attendant.

The incident happened on the evening of Tuesday, April 15, 2008 on United Flight UAL 1427, an Airbus A320 aircraft. According to news reports, the turbulence began about 30 minutes after the aircraft departed Denver International Airport. The aircraft turned back to Denver where it landed safely.

The FAA's preliminary report about this turbulence incident provides few details, however descriptions of what happened have appeared in several news media reports. An article on IN-Forum News included an account of the scene given by Mr. Keith Holland, who was a passenger on the flight:

...When the Airbus A320 hit cruising speed, the seat-belt sign was turned off, flight attendants started serving drinks and Holland began working on his laptop.

Then there was a bump caused by turbulence, which seemed normal at first, Holland said.

But when he looked out the window from his aisle seat, Holland saw the plane tilted to the right – “the wing was tipped to the ground. I could see the ground.”

The beverage cart bounced around and the drinks and cups spilled out, he said. One flight attendant was thrown to the ceiling and passengers’ personal belongings – including Holland’s laptop – flew into the air.

After the laptop hit the overhead compartment, “I pulled it to my chest and held it hard,” which caused some sore ribs, he said. “The flight attendant was bouncing along like a ping-pong ball.”
Mr. Holland added that the flight attendant who hit the ceiling recovered enough to continue working on the way back to Denver, but that another flight attendant required medical attention. He also observed a passenger with "a bloody face" who, he said, "needed paramedics to help her off the plane."

An article about the turbulence incident on the website of Denver television channel CBS 4 mentioned that one passenger and one flight attendant who were injured were hospitalized. The CBS 4 article includes a video clip that includes comments from a passenger who was on board UAL Flight 1427.

Friday, April 11, 2008

American Airlines flight attendants get pay protection for lost time

APFA logoAmerican Airlines will provide pay protection to flight attendants who lost time as a direct result of flight cancellations during the recent grounding of the airline's MD80 fleet. According to an announcement posted on April 10, 2008 to the website of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants, "This pay protection applies not only to monthly guarantee but also to those who have lost high-time hours as well as commuters who were unable to make their trips - as a result of the MD80 re-inspections - after having followed commuter policy guidelines."

A separate agreement, also announced on April 10, 2008, provides American Airlines flight attendants with a mechanism to restore Personal Vacation Days (PVDs) that were voluntarily used to supplement pay following last month's MD80 cancellations. Flight attendants who used PVDs to protect loss of pay will have the option to make up time in order to restore the PVDs that were used.

Letters of Understanding for both the pay protection agreement and the PVD recovery agreement stipulate that they are offered on a non-precedent setting basis. Details can be found in the following documents:

American Airlines also reached a similar agreement with its pilots regarding pay protection. American Airlines pilots are represented by the Allied Pilots Association.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pick-up lines flight attendants hear

Southwest Airlines logoHow about something a little more light-hearted than our usual fare of cabin safety news and flight attendant labor issues: I noticed an entertaining article posted to Nuts About Southwest, the official blog of Southwest Airlines. It was written by a Carole Adams, a Dallas-based flight attendant.

Ms. Adams wrote Drop Me a Line, a collection of pick-up lines heard by flight attendants. Here's a sample of the pick-up lines on her list:

“You have to know CPR because you take my breath away.”

“I’m not drunk. I’m just intoxicated by you!”

“If I borrowed your glasses, could I see you tomorrow night?”

“Congratulations, you’ve just been voted the most beautiful Flight Attendant. I’m your prize!”
Okay, stop rolling your eyes. I know they're groaners, but I think that's the point.!

There are others on that post, and still more contributed by readers in the Comments section at the end of the post. Go and have a look at Drop Me a Line. Go ahead and add your favorite (or least favorite!) pick-up line to the list -- there, or here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Flight attendant sues Arkia Airlines for unpaid work on the ground

Arkia Airlines Boeing 757A flight attendant in Israel is suing her former employer for pay she says is owed her for work she did while on the ground. Shiri Segal, who worked for Arkia Airlines for nearly 10 years, recently filed a lawsuit in the Tel Aviv Labor Court against the Israeli carrier on the grounds that the airline does not pay flight attendants for work they do while not flying. Ms. Segal is asking for compensation of NIS 140,000 (equivalent to about US $38,750).

An article about the lawsuit on the Israeli business news website Globes Online explains:

Segal says that as a matter of policy, which is stipulated in labor contracts, Arkia pays flight attendants only for hours actually in the air. In other words, "from the moment that the plane is moving under its own power from the terminal to the takeoff point and until the engines are shut down after landing."

Segal claims that a large part of a flight attendant's work is spent on the ground, before and after a flight. This work includes, but is not limited to, accepting the planes and handing them over, checking the plane before embarkation and after disembarkation of passengers, examining emergency equipment, positioning seat belts, and preparing drink and food carts.

She says that on international flights, she usually begins work at least two hours before takeoff and for two more hours after landing at the destination. Ground work in Israel on the return trip after landing is usually 1.5 hours, for a total of 5.5 hours for which no compensation is paid.
Ms. Segal also notes that Arkia never paid her for the hours waiting for the return flight.

I'm sure that the progress of this lawsuit will be of interest to cabin crew around the world, most of whom are similarly unpaid for work they do on the ground. Most people outside the industry probably are unaware that flight attendants are paid only for "block time" -- that is, from the time the aircraft door closes just prior to departure, until the aircraft's engines are shut down at the destination.

How is it that cabin crew are contractually obligated to perform certain tasks before and after flights, but are not paid for those tasks and the time it takes to perform them? Many of these procedures are safety related, required by government regulations, yet crew are expected to carry them out without any sort of compensation.

Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, it calls attention to an entrenched practice in the aviation industry that denies proper compensation to crew for the legitimate and necessary work they do on the ground. Clearly, this practice needs to be reconsidered. If the work is of value to the carrier -- and it is -- then those who do it should be fairly compensated.

[Photo Source]

Friday, April 4, 2008

Flight attendant jobs and hiring trends

Cabin crewThe bad news: Recently, several airlines have shut down their passenger operations, leaving thousands of their employees suddenly jobless. Among those are hundreds of capable, experienced flight attendants.

The good news (relatively speaking) is that some airlines and corporate aviation departments are hiring cabin crew at this time. One place on the web where you can find out who is hiring flight attendants is, a website that specializes in following hiring trends for cabin crew. The website features valuable information about the overall market for cabin crew jobs -- both commercial and corporate -- as well as specific job listings. charges no fees for job referrals.

This week, launched a new feature: A monthly hiring forecast. The April 2008 Hiring Forecast is up on the website now, and a new one will be posted each month. This month's report mentions which mainline, regional, and charter carriers in the U.S. are hiring flight attendants, as well several opportunities for cabin crew outside the United States. The report includes direct links to career fairs and the recruiting pages of airlines that are accepting online applications. Go and have a look. I think you'll find to be a very worthwhile job search resource, whether you are an experienced flight attendant looking for a new position, or seeking to enter the cabin crew profession for the first time.

Good luck in your job search. Happy Landings!