Should the way flight attendants are compensated be changed?

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2024 | Wage & Hour |

In general, hourly workers in California and around the country begin to be paid as soon as they clock in or report for duty, but the rules are different for most of the nation’s flight attendants. The pay mechanism in place for flight attendants only requires airlines to start paying their cabin staff when an aircraft’s doors are closed before takeoff. This means that flight attendants are not paid when they wait at airports for aircraft to arrive or assist passengers during the boarding process. These duties can account for up to six hours of a flight attendants working day. This is something that that labor groups including the Association of Professional Flight Attendants want to see changed.

Worsening working conditions

Flight attendants say that the current labor agreement does not require airlines to pay them when they perform some of their most stressful duties. They also say that working conditions have worsened in recent years because more flights are sold out, aircraft have more seats and passengers are becoming increasingly unruly. Airlines claim that a new agreement is not needed because most flight attendants are guaranteed one hour of paid flight time for every two hours they spend on duty. The APFA is seeking a new agreement and a 33% pay rise. According to data from the U.S. Department of labor, flight attendants earn between $38,000 and $100,000 per year.

Industrial action is unlikely

The APFA organized picketing at dozens of U.S. airports on Feb. 13 to draw attention to the pay dispute, but more aggressive industrial action is unlikely. This because the APFA must obtain permission from the federal government before they can ask flight attendants to go on strike. Flight delays and airport chaos attract a great deal of media attention, so permission to strike is unlikely to be forthcoming. Most hourly workers in the United States are paid according to the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour laws.

Arduous duties

This dispute reveals that even well-paid workers are sometimes expected to perform arduous duties for little or no pay. Flight attendants, like all workers, deserve to be paid for all of the time that they spend on duty, but they are unable to go on strike without permission from the federal government. This gives airlines a negotiating advantage that groups like the APFA think is unfair.